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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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A Threat

The Incident

At a smoking break with one of his colleagues from down the hall, an employee was reported to have said, I like the way some employees handle problems with their supervisors -- they eliminate them. One of these days I'm going to bring in my gun and take care of my problem. The employee who heard the statement reported it to his supervisor, who in turn reported it to his supervisor, who called a member of the workplace violence team.

Response

In the case of a reported threat where there does not appear to be an imminent danger, the agency's plan called for the employee relations specialist to conduct an immediate preliminary investigation and for the team to meet with the supervisor immediately afterward to look at the available evidence and strategize a preliminary response.

That afternoon, the Employee Relations specialist interviewed the employee who heard the threat, that employee's supervisor, the supervisor of the employee who made the threat, and subsequently the employee who allegedly made the threat. The employee who made the threat denied saying any such thing. There were no witnesses.

The supervisor of the employee who allegedly made the threat reported that, several months earlier, the same employee had responded to his casual question about weekend plans by saying, I'm going to spend the weekend in my basement with my guns practicing my revenge. At that time, the supervisor had warned the employee that such talk was unacceptable at work and referred the employee to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Both supervisors expressed concern for their staff's safety. Based on comments from supervisors and the employee who made the threat, the employee relations specialist recommended that a more thorough investigation be done.

At the meeting where the employee relations specialist's findings were discussed, the following people were present: the first-and second-level supervisor of the employee who allegedly made the threat, an Associate Director of the agency, the agency security officer, the employee relations specialist, the EAP counselor, and an attorney with the General Counsel's Office. One of the team members recommended that the employee be given a counseling memo and referred to the Employee Assistance Program. The consensus of the others, however, based on the employee relations specialist's oral report, was to recommend to the supervisor that the employee be placed on excused absence pending an investigation and that he be escorted from the premises.

The Security officer and the employee's second-level Supervisor went together to give the alleged threatener a letter that stated, This is to inform you that effective immediately you will be in a paid, non-duty status, pending an agency determination regarding your actions on June 10. You are required to provide a phone number where you can be reached during working hours. They also took away his identification badge and office keys, and escorted him to the building exit.

The team consulted with the agency's Office of Inspector General which arranged for a criminal investigation to be conducted. The Criminal Investigator interviewed all of the employee's coworkers and two other employees who the coworkers indicated had knowledge of this employee's prior statements against his supervisors. He then interviewed the alleged threatener.

The criminal investigator checked to see if the employee had a police record. He did not. The investigator also checked his workplace to see if he had any weapons at the office or if he had any written material of a threatening nature. The search of his workplace found nothing of consequence.

The investigative report showed that the employee told his coworkers on several occasions that he had no respect for his supervisor and that he thought that threatening him was an effective way to solve his problems with him. Signed statements indicated that he bragged about knowing how to get his way with his boss.

The prosecutor's office, after receiving the investigative report, made a determination that it would not prosecute the case and informed management that they could proceed with administrative action. The team recommended a proposed removal action since the evidence showed that the employee was using threats to intimidate his supervisor.

Resolution

The second-level supervisor proposed a removal action based on a charge of "threatening a supervisor." A top manager who had not been directly involved in the case initially insisted that the agency enter into a settlement agreement that would, among other things, give the employee a clean Standard Form (SF) 50. However, based on the particular facts in this case, the team convinced him that he was not solving any problems by settling the case in this way and was, in fact, just transferring the problem to another unsuspecting employer. The top manager finally agreed and the employee was removed from Federal service.

Even though the agency did not settle the case, and did, in fact, effect a removal action, the employee was soon hired by another agency anyway. The new agency never checked his references and is now experiencing the same type of intimidating behavior from the employee.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. What would your agency have done about checking references before hiring this employee?

  2. What do you think would have been the risks of settling the case with a clean SF 50?

  3. How would your agency have handled the case if the key witness (i. e., the employee who heard the threat) had demonstrated certain behavior that cast doubt on his credibility?