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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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A Suicide Attempt

The Incident

A member of the agency's Incident Response Team received a frantic call from an employee saying that her coworker just left her office muttering about the final straw -- you all won't have me to push around any more. She said she's been worried for weeks about the possibility of her coworker committing suicide and knows now she should have called earlier. The staff member who took the call told the employee to see if she could find her coworker and remain with her. Help was on its way.

Response

For incidents involving suicide threats, the agency's plan was to call local police if there seemed to be imminent danger and, if not enough was known about the situation, to Contact security and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor to do an immediate assessment of the situation.

The team member who took the initial call first Contacted a Security officer who immediately located the two employees. The EAP counselor could not be reached immediately, so the team member called an employee in the Human Resources (HR) department who had earlier volunteered to help out in emergency situations (she had been trained in her community in dealing with suicide attempts).

The HR specialist arrived at the distressed employee's office within two minutes of the call. The employee was crying at this point and making statements such as, No one can help me and It'll be over soon. The HR specialist recognized what was happening and asked the security officer to call police and an ambulance and tell them there was a suicide attempt. After calling the police, the security officer went outside to meet the emergency workers and direct them to the scene. The HR specialist then learned from the woman that an hour earlier she had swallowed 10 pills. The police and ambulance were on the scene within three minutes of the call and the woman was hospitalized.

The HR specialist Contacted the employee's family and then prepared a report of the incident. The

Employee Assistance Program

counselor consoled and supported the coworker who had initially called the Incident Response Team.

Emergency treatment was successful, and the employee was admitted to the hospital's psychiatric unit. The EAP counselor and HR specialist stayed in touch with the employee and supported her in planning her return to work. She returned to work four weeks later, functioning with the help of anti-depressant medication and twice-weekly psychotherapy sessions.

With the employee's consent, the EAP counselor arranged a meeting involving the employee, her supervisor, and the Human Relations specialist to coordinate her treatment and work activities. The supervisor agreed to adjust the employee's work schedule to fit her therapy appointments as a reasonable accommodation, and the supervisor provided guidance on procedures and medical documentation requirements for leave approval. The counselor, supervisor, and employee agreed on a plan for getting the employee immediate emergency help if she should feel another crisis coming on.

Resolution

Two years later, the employee is doing well, working a normal schedule, and continues to be a productive employee. She no longer takes anti-depressant medication, but she stays in touch with both her psychiatrist and the EAP counselor.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. Do you agree with the agency's approach in this case?

  2. Does your agency have back-up plans for situations where key team members are not available?

  3. Has your agency identified employees with skills in handling emergencies?

  4. Does your workplace violence policy and training encourage employees to report incidents at an early stage?

  5. Does your workplace violence policy and training encourage employees to seek guidance with regard to problems that trouble them even when they don't fully understand the nature of the problem?

  6. If the employee had left the building before emergency personnel arrived, does your plan provide for Contacting the appropriate authorities?