Coworker Threatened To Kill Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about threat to kill:

In late November or early December a coworker made serious threats to me. I thought she was being facetious, but now after several unstable emotional outbursts and meltdowns, including one today, I’m not so sure.I informed my boss a couple of weeks ago that I was afraid of physical harm. Everybody pooh-poohs this and says it’s just not going to happen. But they’re not the ones she threatened to kill’; I am. What recourse do I have?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

No one should be allowed to make life-threatening comments to coworkers without getting either a severe sanction or being dismissed. It’s very unfortunate that the coworker’s actions weren’t taken more seriously at the time and aren’t being taken seriously now. Here are some things to consider:
1. Sometimes the best thing that can be done, even though time has elapsed, is for a manager to talk to the employee and tell her that her comments have caused concern and she is being reminded that any actions to harm another employee would result in dismissal and criminal charges. You could put a request in writing to your managers, asking that they have that conversation with the coworker. Or, put all of this in writing and submit it to HR or higher up the chain of command. Let them know they are responsible for helping you.
2. You could ask your managers to work with you to help you feel more safe. For example, maybe you can adjust your work times to allow you to lessen the time around the coworker. Or, maybe you can work in a different area. At the least, maybe you can have a security staff person or someone else walk you to your car or observe your coworker as the two of you arrive and leave for a shift.
3. You should also work to reduce or eliminate the conflict that is causing this degree of upset. Limit your interactions with her and do not gossip about her to others. Talk to your manager to get suggestions for how the conflict situation can be handled, other than just letting it continue and hoping for the best.
4. Have a manager sit in on a discussion in which you tell the coworker that her actions and remarks have frightened you and made you feel that she might harm you. Tell her, in front of your manager, that every workplace has conflict but it doesn’t have to get to the point where people are afraid of each other. Then, say something like, “So, Stella, I would like to get a promise from you that you won’t do anything to harm me or my property.”That may sound almost foolish to suggest, but it can have very positive results. For one thing, it may jolt her to realize you are taking her seriously. It will also put her on the spot where she will be required to make a promise in front of the manager, and it might wake her up to how she has sounded.You will probably never feel comfortable around her again, but letting her know that you are on your guard may be helpful for many reasons.
5. I also think you should report to HR or your managers, any actions or comments by the coworker, so those people are faced with the realization that they could be held liable for the actions of a threatening employee.6. If your company is a large one, it might have a legal staff. If so, consider contacting them and telling them about your concerns.I wish there was a way to assure you that the coworker will never act on her threats, but that isn’t possible. I think you should use caution and be more observant than ever before.Best wishes in this troubling situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what actions you take or that your managers take, and what results you get.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.