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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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Veiled Threats

The Incident

A team member took a phone call from a supervisor who said, One of my employees said this morning that he knows where my kids go to school. I know that doesn't sound like much to you, but if you saw the look in his eyes and heard the anger in his voice, you'd know why I need your help in figuring out what to do.


The team member who took the call heard more details about the incident and then set up a meeting with the supervisor who made the report, a security specialist, an employee relations specialist, and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor.

At the meeting, the Supervisor who made the report told the team that the employee who said that he knows where his kids go to school has been engaging in intimidating behavior against him for the past year since he became his supervisor. The supervisor had spoken with him on several occasions to let him know that his behavior was unacceptable. He also had given him a written warning along with a written referral to the EAP.

Because the office was in a General Services Administration controlled building, the Security specialist then called the regional office of the Federal Protective Service (FPS). The FPS Contacted the threat assessment unit of the state police, who agreed to assign a threat assessment consultant to assist the agency. In a phone consultation with the team, the Threat Assessment Consultant suggested that the team arrange for an immediate investigation by an investigator who was experienced in workplace violence cases. The investigator should explore the following areas:

  1. What further background information can be learned about the relationship between the supervisor and alleged threatener?

  2. What is the relationship between the supervisor and his other employees and coworkers?

  3. Have there been problems of a similar nature with the alleged threatener's previous supervisors? If so, how were they resolved or handled? If there were problems with previous supervisors, were they similar to or different from the current situation?

  4. What are the alleged threatener's relationships with coworkers? Might there be other potential victims? Are there also interpersonal problems between the alleged threatener and other employees?

  5. Are there unusually stressful problems in the life of the alleged threatener, e. g., divorce, financial reversal, or any other recent significant traumatic event?

  6. Does anyone else feel threatened based on their interaction with the alleged threatener?

  7. Does the alleged threatener have access to weapons? Has he recently acquired weapons?

The threat assessment consultant scheduled another telephone consultation with the team for three days later. He also suggested that the investigator not interview the alleged perpetrator until after the next phone consultation.

The investigation was conducted immediately by a Professional Investigator and the team reviewed the investigative report prior to the next phone conversation with the threat assessment consultant. The report contained statements by the employee's supervisor about veiled threats the employee had made, such as If you give me that Exercise, you'll be sorry, I know where you live, and I see you every day on your way to work. (The employee lives at the opposite end of town from the supervisor.)

Also in the investigative report was a transcript (and a tape recording) of two voice mail messages that the supervisor found intimidating -- one in which the employee said he needed annual leave that day to go for target practice and another one in which he said he couldn't come to work that day because he had to go hunting. Again, the supervisor's statement showed that he considered the employee's tone of voice to be intimidating and said that, on the day previous to each of these phone calls, the employee had acted as though he was angry about new Exercises the supervisor had given him. The supervisor said he has taken several precautions as a result of the threats.

For example, he told his children to take precautions, installed dead bolt locks at his home, and asked the local police to do a security survey of his home. In addition to the investigative report, the security office obtained a police record showing a misdemeanor conviction for spousal abuse several years earlier.

Participating in the phone consultation with the threat assessment consultant was the workplace violence team, the second-line supervisor, and the director of the office. The purpose of the consultation was to:

  • Analyze the information contained in the investigative report,

  • Determine what additional information was needed,

  • Determine whether to interview the alleged perpetrator,

  • Help the team members organize their thinking about how to proceed with the case, and

  • Discuss a range of options that could be taken.

The threat assessment consultant recommended that the investigator interview three coworkers, the employee's ex-wife, and subsequently the alleged threatener. The purpose of the interview with the alleged threatener would be to corroborate what was said by the others and get his explanation of why he made the statements. The interview would also communicate to him that this kind of conduct has been noticed, troubles people, and is not condoned. He advised that security measures, including having a security officer in the next room, be taken when the alleged threatener was interviewed. The threat assessment consultant also gave the team guidance in the preservation of evidence, such as written material and tape recordings, and in the documentation of all Contacts.

During the interview, the alleged threatener made what the investigator believed were several additional veiled threats against the supervisor. He even behaved in a way that led the investigator to be concerned about his own safety.

Based on the findings of the investigation, the threat assessment consultant concluded that the employee presented behaviors that showed that a real possibility existed that the employee, if pushed, might carry out some of his threats toward the supervisor and his family. He expressed concern that, if the employee continued to work in the same office, the situation could escalate. Management decided to place the employee on excused absence for the safety of the threatened supervisor.

The threat assessment consultant worked with team members to develop a plan for ongoing security. For example, he suggested the team identify one member to coordinate case management, recommended monitoring any further communication between the employee and other agency employees (e. g., any phone calls, any email messages, and any showing up at residences were to be reported to the case manager). He recommended that security officials be in the area, though not visible, whenever meetings were held with the employee. The threat assessment consultant remained available for telephone consultation as the team carried out the plan.


Though the agency had concerns that any agency action might trigger an action against the supervisor's family, the agency went ahead and removed the employee based on a charge of threatening behavior. The agency's analysis considered the credibility of the supervisor and employee, and the information and evidence gathered. The employee did not appeal the removal action.

The agency security officer gave the supervisor advice on personal safety and discussed with him the pros and cons of obtaining a restraining order for his family. The security officer also helped the supervisor get in touch with the local office of victim assistance for additional ideas on ways to protect his family. The threat assessment consultant also spoke with the supervisor and suggested that he may want to go to the school, school bus driver, and neighbors and make them aware of the problem and the alleged threatener's appearance (show them his picture). The reason for involving the school and neighbors would be to encourage them to report any suspicious activities to the police. He also talked to the supervisor about police involvement and discussed filing criminal charges. If the police said the situation was not serious enough to file criminal charges, he suggested finding out from the police what was serious enough to warrant an arrest. For example, he could explore with police what would constitute a pattern of behavior that might be considered serious enough to pursue action under the state's stalking or harassment statute.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

  1. If this incident were reported at your agency, would you have used a criminal investigator or administrative investigator to conduct the initial investigation?

  2. If your agency has a criminal investigative service, have you discussed the feasibility of involving agency criminal investigators at an early stage in the process of dealing with threatening behavior, i. e., in situations where threatening behavior does not yet rise to the level of a crime?

  3. Has your agency identified a threat assessment professional to whom you could turn for assistance if the need arose?

  4. How does your agency keep up with Merit Systems Protection Board case law on charges and threats?

  5. If this happened at your agency, and the threatening behavior continued, what would you do to protect the supervisor and his family?