As an HR Consultant, I’ve seen my share of organizational problems. Problems that create risk of EEOC and DOL investigations–and litigation. And, problems that create risk to EVERYONE inside an organization, such as a workplace violence threat. Recently, one of my clients dealt with a situation involving an employee who was “unstable”, talking to himself, muttering under his breath that he was going to “take out” his manager, his co-workers, and then take himself “out.” He had been a performance problem, and his supervisor was doing all of the appropriate performance management documentation. However, along the way, this young man didn’t want to accept the feedback…Instead, he starts making threats in the workplace.
So, if you were the HR Manager/Director would you know how to handle this issue? Unfortunately, many HR professionals lack investigative skills–and workplace violence prevention skills. And, the problem is worse…what happens when supervisors or managers are faced with a volatile employee situation like this? THEY CALL HR!!!
In this real scenario, the HR Director handled the complaint intake process very effectively. An employee, who works in the same area as the guy making the threats, came into her office (shaking he was so scared…) and said, “He’s crazy! He’s saying these things that are really scary… I know he carries a gun… He’s going to kill somebody here…I just know it!” The employee also was aware that this guy making the threats was also on some kind of medication for his “paranoia and anxiety”, as he had previously socialized with him outside of work.
So, what to do when faced with a critical situation like this? The answer: drop everything you’re doing and do a thorough job of complaint intake. Get the Who, What, Where, When, How from the complainant. Get specific examples of behavior that violates your company policy. (The verbal threats, any examples of physical violence such as punching a wall, etc.) And, if you don’t have a policy on workplace violence–that would be Step #2 after you handle this issue! You must, must have a policy in place the prohibits employees from making threats in the workplace.
After handling the intake and doing what is called a threat assessment, the next step is to determine if there is any immediate danger. If danger is immediate(such as an active shooter in the workplace),–call 911. If the danger isn’t immediate, then you would still contact the police, but not as an emergency. However, in this real situation, the police were contacted, given information about the employee’s behavior, the threats he made, the witnesses who heard them–and when the police arrived they came into the employer’s facility via a rear elevator to minimize the number of employees who saw them enter the facility.
The police then developed an on-site strategy regarding how best to approach the employee. The employee was then questioned by police & checked for a weapon. He did not have his weapon on his person; however, based on the evidence gathered from witnesses, the employer immediately terminated him and had the police escort him off the property. At that point, the employer issued a no trespass order, AND they immediately changed their security protocols.
Prior to this incident with this potentially violent employee, they were very lax regarding access to facility, which consists of work spaces/cubicle pods that occupy two full floors of a high rise building. Now, after having experienced a potentially dangerous situation, no one can gain access to their floors without a security key fob that enables the elevator to stop on their floors.
Once the bad guy was escorted off the property, their internal investigation continued. It then shed light on how vulnerable they really were–and subsequently got their leadership to put a physical security plan in place. Also, their investigation revealed that they need more training for their supervisors in how to handle workplace violence.
So, conducting internal investigations is critical to minimize the risk of fines and expensive employment lawsuits. We get the need to investigate harassment, discrimination, etc. However, in this post I wanted to shed light on how conducting internal investigations is sometimes seriously critical to prevent injury or loss of life!
For more information on how to improve your skills in conducting internal investigations, go to: https://www.rpchr.com/about/upcomingevents/
to learn about my three-day Internal Investigations Certificate Program. Also, you can check out my new book: How to Conduct Internal Investigations: A Practical Guide for HR Professionals at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of Results Performance Consulting, Inc. and is a seasoned HR leader, consultant, and investigator.