Threat To Kill?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a possible threatening message:

Here again, I am a nurse and you have answered two of my previous questions. I do have another dilemma. My hospital recently closed the Rehab unit and we have acquired one of those nurses. Rehab nurses and acute care surgical nurses are worlds apart. Just different types of nursing. This nurse in my opinion is an unstable person and an inept nurse; Her facial coloring is that of a smoker, drinker or a drug abuser. My observations.

The unit has done everything in its power to see this nurse succeed in her transition. I won’t get into all we have done. We did everything.Anyways, she came to work with a brown lunch bag with her name on it. (The kind your mom gave you for school.) She placed it in the break room. It accidentally fell over, and written on the bottom of the bag was “You have such a wonderful husband if that don’t make you laugh you should quit or kill your boss!” What do you think of that? It was brought to my attention, and I brought it to my Nurse Manager’s attention.

She took it to HR. They called her in and she denied she wrote it. She stated her husband wrote it. I don’t believe her for a second. She is a manipulator. How do we know she did not write it? Plus it is on her things. She owns it!!! She should be held accountable!!!!Anyways, they said she was on administrative leave. She was back in work the next day for the 3-11 shift!! I am angry!! I called and went to HR. I told them I did not feel safe for my nurse manager, myself or the other nurses. She broke the law!! They told me they would think about what I said, that I raised some concerns they never thought of. My feeling is she made a threat and she should be fired. In this day and age, threats should be taken seriously!!!

People now a days just walk into the work place and start blasting away!! Kids included! Tell me your feelings. HR says they have time to think this over, She will not be back to work until next Wednesday. Thanks in advance. My husband is retired from law enforcement. He is fuming. I am not going to give up. I think an injustice has been done.

Signed, Not Giving Up

Dear Not Giving Up:

I can see how worried and angry you are over this most recent incident. You say it is now is in the hands of your Human Resources. Concerns about threats should be taken seriously and be taken to those in authority. You were wise to take this concern to them. The question they must decide is if this is really a threat and if so what is the appropriate next step. From what you say, HR has placed this nurse on leave for several days, although you say she was back to work at least one of those days immediately after the brown bag incident was reported. HR will determine if this incident can be accurately interpreted as a threat, and/or you or your manager should report it to law enforcement.

My associate Tina Lewis Rowe, who has extensive experience in law enforcement, advises that if the manager is worried that it might be a threat she does not have to wait for advice from HR. I think in this case, however, that it would be wise for your manager to work with HR rather than doing that.Tina Rowe is of the opinion: “I do think it should be looked into as an inappropriate item to have in the workplace, and certainly given today’s climate I think they should ask for a police investigation, to clear them of liability. But, even if they could prove she wrote it–which I don’t think they could–I don’t think it would be a threat under the law.” Neither do I. From what you wrote us, this nurse’s lunch bag was accidentally tipped over and someone discovered writing on it stated “You have such a wonderful husband if that don’t make you laugh you should kill your boss.” There is more than one way that statement can be interpreted.

In my opinion, that sentence was not a plot to do kill her boss. Nor was it a threat to do so. Nor was it presented as a threat, but it was accidentally discovered. Nor was it one of a pattern of threats or incidents that might be interpreted as threats. Tina Rowe suggests a similar interpretation: ”

Frankly it DOES sound like something her husband wrote. I would imagine she has talked at home about how much she dislikes her work, as much as those at her work are talking about her when they go home! So, he may be saying, “Look Honey, you’ve got ME. If that isn’t enough, you either need to quit or bump off that miserable boss you have, since that’s apparently the only thing left to do!'” She also lists the criteria and questions that usually are used to determine if a threat has been made:
*Is there evidence or witnesses to prove that a threat was intentionally communicated to others about the target of the threat, or to the target of the threat directly? (The only completely objective part of the evaluation.)
*Did the speaker or writer intend that the communication be taken as a threat to inflict or cause serious harm to a person or persons, or intend to place the listener in fear for his or her safety? (This would need to be decided by the investigator before deciding whether to file charges, and by the prosecutor before deciding to accept them.)
*Would a reasonable listener interpret the statement as communicating a serious expression of an intent to inflict or cause serious harm to a specific person or persons? (Also subjective, and would be evaluated by the investigator and prosecutor.)
*How explicit and unambiguous is the alleged threat as to method, place, time or personal commitment to cause harm? Could it be reasonably interpreted in any other way?
*Does the person who made the threat have the apparent ability to carry out the threat?
*Is the alleged threat directed to a specific individual or specific individuals, rather than to a general group or class of persons?” Based on most of those criteria,” Ms. Rowe concludes, “something vague written on a lunch sack, and only accidentally read, would not be a threat. But, it will be up to an investigator and the D.A.’s office to decide.”

Could such a sentence cause other nurses, your manager, and you to worry and some of you to be stressed out? Yes, it could. You are an example of that. Let’s suppose her husband did write that note. If he did, was it wise of him to do so? No. Now our alternate interpretations probably are not what you want us to think it says. I say that because you prefaced this incident with your low evaluation of his nurse’s competence and performance.

You say you would like for this woman to be fired. Right? You see this odd incident what might send her packing. Right?From here, we can’t know what your policy book says about what merits discipline and discharge. HR can advise your manager about that. When a nurse’s performance is unsatisfactory, your manager should have followed a sequence of logging that and her efforts made to correct defective performance.I expect that you have spoken to more than your manager, HR, and your husband about this incident. I’m sure you needed to get it off your chest and that it is useless for me to advise that such an important matter as this should not be a subject of gossip. I will only preach to this extent: Handle this incident as you would like others to handle it if they thought something written on your brown bag was a threat. So what else might you do? If you won’t give up, what is best to do now?

You declare, “The unit has done everything in their power to see this nurse succeed in her transition. I won’t get into all we have done. We did everything.” If that is true, an account of that should be logged and performance failures should be recorded. This data should support a decision to follow HR procedures for corrective training, reassignment, or firing. In a serious matter such as firing, a manager should follow a process that, as much as possible, is in the best interest of your work unit, the patients it serves, and the individual in question. You are in a caring important profession. Working together with hands, head, and heart is not a walk in the park, but perhaps taking a walk will give you time to reflect on what has happened, to put it all in perspective, and not to obsess about it. Is that possible?

William Gorden