By William Wiley, September 25, 2018
I’ve always been a worrier. Even in my class picture from the second grade, you can see that I have a lot on my mind and the weight of the world on my shoulders. There are so many rules in life and someone has to be concerned that we all follow them. Even at the ripe old age of seven, I somehow knew that would become my mission in life.
These days, one of my recurrent worries is for the safety of those of you in our FELTG Nation. Did you notice last week that within 24 hours, there were two (2) (!!) workplace shooting sprees? As was reported in the Washington Post, on Thursday, a Rite Aid employee in Maryland entered her regular work space, shot and killed three coworkers, wounded three others, and then shot and killed herself. The day before, an employee of a Wisconsin software company opened fire in his workplace, wounding three coworkers before killing himself. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that every Monday through Friday, every week of the year, two people are killed in a workplace by a coworker. These recent shootings will become part of those statistics in next year’s report.
I think it’s fair to say that the shooters in these two situations must have been under a lot of stress. Happy employees don’t usually open fire on people they work with. The Rite Aid employee was described by coworkers as “normally, a nice person.” There must have been something very stressful that pushed her over the edge.
Think about your federal workplace for a minute. Which of the following events do you think would be the most likely to drive one of your coworkers to kill somebody?
- Having someone steal your afternoon snack from the lunchroom refrigerator.
- Receiving a “Fully Satisfactory” performance rating when that no-good employee next to you got a rating of “Exceptional.”
- Having your boss propose to upper management that you be fired.
I will yield that any one of these events could result in a fragile person reaching for his Glock. Those afternoon snacks can be very important. However, I think we would all agree that, relatively speaking, receiving notice that you are about to lose your job has to be one of the most stressful events that might occur in a government workplace.
Acknowledging that stress is often related to workplace violence, and that a proposed removal is just about the most stressful event one would expect in a government agency, which of the following options do you think that an agency should engage in when proposing to fire an employee?
- Leaving the employee to perform his regular job for a month, where he has access to all those important government documents you keep locked away on your hard drives and daily contact with multitudes of coworkers and agency clients;
- Hiring an armed guard to accompany the employee for a month while he performs his regular duties; or
- Removing the employee from the workplace just as soon as you give him the proposed removal, barring his return by confiscating his government credentials, and blocking him from accessing the agency’s computer system from his home computer.
If you did not select number three, above, you are either more brave or more foolish than you should be. As Hamlet would tell you, “Get thee to a nunnery.” There’s safety there and you cannot reproduce.
In December 2016, Congress passed a law that allows supervisors to immediately remove employees from the workplace on the presentation of a notice of proposed removal. As a separate law requires that the employee be paid for 30 days subsequent to a proposed removal, Congress provided that the employee’s pay status in this situation would be paid Notice Leave. To invoke this Notice Leave period and remove the employee from the workplace, the agency has to certify that doing so was the best option of those available, and that NOT placing the employee on Notice Leave “jeopardizes a government interest.” I think it’s fair to say that keeping employees alive and avoiding a potential workplace shooting promotes a nice valid “government interest.”
When the law became effective in December 2016, OPM was given 270 days to issue regulations. Unfortunately, some agencies took the incorrect position that they could not utilize Notice Leave until OPM issued its regulations. In those agencies, employees are being kept in the workplace after notice of a proposed removal, endangering lives and property for no good reason. If OPM would just issue regulations that say that keeping an employee in the workplace after notice of a proposed removal by its very nature “jeopardizes a government interest,” then the potential for death and mayhem could be reduced substantially because agencies throughout government would implement Notice Leave routinely.
Well, the statutory deadline for OPM issuing regulations was a year ago this week. Happy anniversary, I guess. For reasons unfathomable to those of us interested in the safety of the civil service, this delay is an abomination. The comment period for OPM’s proposed regulations closed in the summer of 2017. It already has all it needs to issue final regulations and take a strong step toward protecting federal employees from a stressed-out coworker. Somewhere in that big building known as OPM headquarters – 1900 E Street NW, Washington, DC – sits a desk with the draft final regulations awaiting action. Somebody in that organization has the ability and the authority to move these regulations along, to take a major step toward reducing the chance of a newspaper story about a workplace shooter in a federal building.
If you happen to know who that somebody is, please let him or her know that this is life and death stuff. These regulations could save a life. Your life. And maybe even your contractor’s life (me). Help this young man in the picture above change his frown to a smile. When you’re in the second grade, you never imagine that a federal agency just doing its job could make you happy. Wiley@FELTG.com