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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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A Threat

The Incident

A visibly upset male employee cornered a female employee in her office, and said quietly and slowly that she will pay with her life for going over his head to ask about his work. The male employee then stared at his coworker with his hands clenched rigidly at this side before leaving the office and slamming the door behind him. The female employee, fearful and shaken, reported this to her supervisor, who immediately reported the incident to the director of Employee Relations.

Response

The agency's response plan calls for involvement of Employee Relations, Security and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in cases involving threats. Immediately following the report to the response team, the Security officer Contacted the female employee to assist her in filing a police report on the threat and to discuss safety measures that she should be taking. The victim was also referred to the EAP, where she received brief counseling and educational materials on handling severe stress.

An investigation was immediately conducted by an investigator from the Office of Inspector General. In her statement, the female employee repeated what she had reported to the supervisor earlier about the threat. In his statement, the male employee stated that, on the day in question, he had been upset about what he felt were some underhanded activities by the female employee and his only recollection about the conversation was that he made a general statement like You'll pay to her. He stated that this was not a threat, just an expression. The investigation showed that the employee had several previous incidents of intimidating behavior which had resulted in disciplinary actions.

Resolution

After reviewing the results of the investigation, the supervisor proposed a removal action, finding that the female employee's version of the incident was more credible. In his response to the proposed notice, the employee brought in medical documentation that said he had a psychiatric disability of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which caused his misconduct, and he requested a reasonable accommodation. The deciding official consulted with an agency attorney and employee relations specialist who explained that nothing in the Rehabilitation Act prohibits an agency from maintaining a workplace free of violence threats of violence. Further, they explained that a request for reasonable accommodation does not excuse employee misconduct nor does it shield an employee from discipline. The deciding official determined that removal was the appropriate discipline in this case. The employee did not appeal the action.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

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

  2. If this situation occurred at your agency, would you have involved law enforcement early in the process?

  3. Who would conduct the investigation at your agency?

  4. What else would your agency have done to protect the employee?

  5. Would you have requested more medical documentation from the employee?

  6. What risks must be balanced when selecting a penalty?