By Deborah Hopkins, June 12, 2018

Here’s an email we received after a recent training program on managing employee behavioral health issues in the federal workplace:

Dear FELTG, thank you for an excellent presentation today on behavioral health issues. I had a question about how we work with an employee who is delusional, in danger of being harmed and not in the workplace at present. How do we handle calls/texts on our personal cell phones and social media (such as Facebook) from such an employee?  What is our responsibility as an organization with this situation?

And here’s the response to the hypothetical scenario above:

Dear FELTG Attendee,

Thanks for the email. Regarding the “legal” side of this hypothetical case: if the person is a current employee and the texting/messaging/calling is causing a disruption in the workplace (there’s your nexus), you can give a direct order to the employee to stop contacting co-workers on their personal phones and social media accounts. Then, if the behavior continues, you can issue discipline for the violation. As far as an appropriate penalty, that’s directly related to the level of disruption the texting/calling causes. (Unless you’re in the VA, in which case you can fire the employee and not worry about a judge mitigating the penalty to something less than removal. I’m not necessarily suggesting you do that – but it is the new law for the VA.)

If you want to be extra careful, when you give the employee the written directive to stop contacting people after hours, you’ll include the gag order language below – if you don’t want to give the Office of Special Counsel any reasons to get excited.

“These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling.”

Discipline early, before it gets any further out of hand. So, there’s the legal side. On the clinical side, here are some thoughts on dealing with someone who may have some behavioral health issues:

  1. Be careful about what you say to the employee so you don’t set him off, and if feasible, direct the employee towards professional help or EAP. Also, save the conversations/texts that are being sent, should you need them as evidence later on.
  2. If things escalate and the person does not listen to your orders to stop texting/calling/messaging, you can contact your local behavioral health crisis hotline and provide them with all the information they have so a mental health professional can intervene.
  3. Also, if the employee is making violent threats towards others you can call the local police and/or mental health crisis line. If you feel the employee is in immediate danger or is reporting thoughts to kill himself, then call 911 and the crisis line as they will work collaboratively.

Mental and behavioral health issues are no joke, so whatever you do, don’t ignore them.

If you want more, come to our upcoming class Handling Federal Workplace Challenges: Dealing with Behavioral Health Issues, Threats of Violence, and Coworker Conflicts July 17-19 in Washington, DC.

Hopkins@FELTG.com

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