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Course 720 - Preventing Workplace Violence

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A Threat Made During an EAP Counseling Session

The Incident

When the employee first Contacted the in-house Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor several months earlier, he said that he had been referred by his supervisor because of frequent tardiness and his inability to complete his Exercises on time. He complained of listlessness, lack of interest in his job, and inability to sleep. The counselor referred the employee to a psychiatrist for evaluation. The employee agreed to sign releases so the counselor could Contact both his supervisor and the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed depression, prescribed an anti-depressant, and referred the employee for psychotherapy.

Several weeks later, the supervisor called the EAP counselor to report that the employee often came in looking disheveled, coworkers complained that his speech and manner were sometimes bizarre, and he bragged of drinking large amounts of alcohol each evening. The counselor immediately called the employee and asked him to come in for a follow-up visit. He agreed and appeared late that afternoon in a euphoric state. He said that he had never felt better in his life and had decided against psychotherapy. The counselor encouraged him to return to the psychiatrist for re-evaluation but he refused.

The employee was in a talkative mood and began to reminisce about his Federal career -- first his early successes, then recent disappointments, such as being passed over repeatedly for promotions and failure to receive any type of recognition. As he continued, he revealed in a matter-of-fact tone that he had been spending his evenings planning revenge on his managers because they had treated him unfairly for many years and they deserved to be punished. He believed he had planned the "perfect murder" and that he would never be caught. Thinking at first that he was just venting his frustration, the counselor questioned him further and quickly realized that he was very serious. She urged him to call his psychiatrist immediately and he again refused but said he would "think about calling" in a day or two.

Response

As soon as the employee left her office, the EAP counselor called the psychiatrist and asked whether he viewed the employee's statement as a threat. The psychiatrist said he believed it was a serious threat and recommended that she take immediate action. The EAP counselor called the police and agency officials and informed them about the situation. The following morning when the employee reported to the office, he was met by the local police. A police officer brought him to the community's emergency services clinic for an evaluation and subsequently transported him to the hospital. He remained in the hospital for several weeks.

Resolution

Following discharge, the employee remained at home for several more weeks, during which time agency management held many discussions with his treating and consulting physicians. It was finally decided that the employee would be allowed to return to work, and not removed from his position, on the condition that, as long as he remained an employee of the agency, he would continue in psychotherapy, remain on medication as prescribed, refrain from alcohol and other drug abuse, and be seen on a regular basis by a psychiatric consultant to the agency. The employee agreed to the plan, often known as a last chance agreement.

Although coworkers had been concerned about the employee's strange behavior and had seen him removed from the premises by the police, several had visited him in the hospital and were supportive of his return to the office. He worked his remaining years with no further problems, then retired and moved to another state.

Questions for the Agency Planning Group

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

  2. Would you have let the employee back to work after his hospitalization? What information would you need to make this determination?

  3. What safety precautions would your agency take if you did/did not take him back?

  4. What should the EAP counselor have done if he denied making the threat?

  5. Would your agency have proposed disciplinary action prior to the last chance agreement?