By Dan Gephart, February 20, 2024

If it feels like a dangerous time for Feds, that’s because it is. Attorney General Merrick Garland warned earlier this year about a “deeply disturbing spike” in threats against Federal workers.

A few weeks after Garland’s announcement, the unimaginable happened. A 32-year-old man killed and decapitated his father in their Bucks County, Pa. home. The man then posted a 14-minute YouTube video in which he held up his father’s decapitated head and called him a traitor. Why, according to the son, was the father a traitor? Because he was a Federal employee. The man then urged others to commit similarly violent acts against government officials. Police recovered a USB device that allegedly contained pictures of Federal buildings and instructions on how to make an explosive device.

Meanwhile, it’s election season when the discourse about Federal employees often turns ugly. This year, the rancor is uglier. It’s also quite dangerous. It was this election season, after all, when a major presidential candidate, who has since dropped out, promised, if elected, to “start slitting throats” in the Federal workplace.

We don’t want to be alarmist, but we do want to ensure your agency is as prepared as possible if violence shows up at the office, whether it’s caused by a current or former employee, a family member of an employee, a customer, or someone unknown to the agency.

FELTG instructor Shana Palmieri provides the following guidance (and much more) during her Assessing Risk and Taking Action: Threats and Violence in the Federal Workplace training (next held on April 3.) [Editor’s note: To have Shana teach this class directly to your agency, contact [email protected].]

You should have a set of policies and procedures in place, and they should be accessible to all employees. Those policies and procedures need to include:

  • How the agency handles any incident of threatening or inappropriate behavior.
  • The process for reporting the behavior (incident reporting).
  • How the agency handles each type of violence.
  • Training that will be provided to staff.
  • The assessment protocol once an incident report has been submitted.
  • Who is responsible for the assessment process.
  • Who is responsible for the development of the management plan.
  • How staff will be notified of the management plan if there is a potential risk.

You should also have a prevention strategy that includes:

  • An effective incident reporting process. This process should encourage employees to submit concerns.
  • A relationship with local law enforcement. Does your agency receive reports from local law enforcement of potential risks within the community?
  • Effective protection. Physical security alarm systems, security staff, building access, sign-in processes for the general public.
  • An effective automated warning system.

Another key component of prevention strategy is take all threats of violence seriously. And take  immediate action when those threats come from current employees. Remember, a threat of violence is misconduct. Work your way through the Douglas factors, of course, and determine whether the threats warrant a suspension or removal.

There are numerous cases where removal for threats have been upheld – even as a first offense. In Robinson v. USPS, 30 M.S.P.R. 678 (1986), the MSPB found an employee’s verbal threat to a supervisor warranted removal despite the employee’s lack of prior discipline and four years of service. Per the Board: Such behavior affects the agency’s obligation to maintain a safe workplace for its employees, thus impinging upon the efficiency of the service.

The Federal Circuit echoed those thoughts in 2010 and reiterated them more recently in Jolly v. Department of the Army, No. 2017-1919 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 11, 2017):

“Where an employee makes ‘threats … against her supervisor [that are] unprofessional and inappropriate, and . . . they adversely affect the work atmosphere,’ the penalty of removal is ‘within the permissible range of reasonableness.’” [email protected]

 

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