Workplace Threat To Kill

Question:

I am a male employee that had a female employee threaten to kill me at work. I reported it properly, the investigating supervisor failed to question witnesses and even myself, stating that she didn’t want to get other staff involved.

She tried to downplay the situation, I filed an official grievance on the employee and reported the supervisor for failing to do her due diligence to conduct the investigation properly and informed the Administrator that I was not given the same rights and protection as the female employees at work.

Now I am being questioned for physical contact with the employee, because I was instructed by my supervisor to take the female employee outside to clear the air after she threatened to attack me at my workstation unaware and kill me, I felt uncomfortable doing that, and at the time, thought the supervisor was handling the situation, and was following instructions from my supervisor so I approached the employee at her workstation and told her that everything was ok between us and patted her on her upper back with one hand while she was sitting down to comfort her. Now I’m being questioned for my physical contact and grilled with what I did. I asked if I was being accused of inappropriate contact with the employee, and explained that I wouldn’t have even talked to the employee but I was following instructions. I was told no, that I wasn’t being accused of anything, but that I would still have to be written up for the unwanted contact to the female employee that threatened to kill me.

I explained that I felt if a complaint was filed against me that it was in retaliation for reporting the staff and supervisor for their inappropriate conduct. How can I have the employer inform me or not if I have been accused of anything if I feel they are covering up the allegations against me so I can’t respond appropriately in my defense. I’ve co-operated in their questioning, about my physical contact, but to date, no one has questioned me about by life being threatened. I feel that I am being set up. Any help would be appreciated.

Signed,

Set Up Upset???


Answer:

Dear Set Up Upset???:

Obviously, you are upset. The thought that you are being “set up” is likely more in your mind than real because you are frustrated that the threat was not properly investigated. To be sure, threats are not to be taken lightly and you were justified to report it. You detail failure to investigate the matter and a sequence of events that provoked you to file a grievance. Then in an attempt at reconciliation, on the advice of the supervisor to meet with this coworker, you say you patted the back of the female employee that threatened to kill you, and that now you are being written up for touching her.

From here, I can’t untangle whatever provoked the threat to kill you or all that led to a write up. The best I can do is to suggest that you apologize and submit a brief written explanation to be included with the filing of your write up. The reason I say brief explanation is that less rather than more talk has a better chance for putting all of this behind you. Placing blame apparently is what you sought, and your supervisor rather proposed that your coworker and you talk it out head-to-head. Even if that was not the best resolution of this conflict, it is what happened and now you probably had best live with it.

What else might you do? Something must have caused your female coworker to explode with a threat to kill you. You likely know what that was and you need to do what you can to not have that happen again. The pat on the back apparently did not smooth over what drove her to make such a threat, nor did it soften the fact that you reported her threat. The odds are not in your favor. However, if you are to work with this individual, who does and does not do what needs to be make explicit. Or the solution might be to have one of you transferred to work where your paths will not cross. Could it be that you work in a communication-impoverished work setting? Are assignments not clear? Is the system to blame for temper flare-ups? Is conflict considered a fault or an opportunity to problem solve? By impoverished I mean that your supervisor might not see her self as a coach who understands that clarification of how coworkers should interact is not a matter of her simply saying “get along” or even of her making the rules. Probably she does not understand that that coworker “ownership” for rules of engagement are best accomplished by collaboratively hammering out of their do and don’ts. Impoverished also means there are few if any, skull sessions that review what your work group has done well during the past week and what needs correction for the next.

Likely you have already done what is natural when conflict results; you have been both the subject of and contributed to gossip about yourself. Rather than allow your alienation to fester, can you not obsess about it? Can you rather focus on thinking like an owner of your workplace; one whose attention is on cutting wasted supplies, wasted energy, wasted time and on improving the quality? Can you focus on doing your own share to make your workplace both successful and a good place in which to work?

These thoughts may not be what you wanted to hear; however, I hope you can take time to ask if any of them makes sense. I hope the time I’ve taken to read and reread what you sent and to offer suggestions will prompt you to focus on creative ways to make your work be something that you want to come to. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. The fault may not be at all yours, but I suggest that getting past it will be best achieved by thinking and acting with what I call wego- mindedness. Follow Up 1 from Upset: Thanks for your time, I will keep working with the supervisors to get this resolved as smoothly as possible. As far as why this woman threatened to kill me, I was training her to be my replacement as I was being transferred to a better job. I had a very stressful job that no one wanted to take over, and she was selected as my replacement against her wishes. She had made several comments to other staff and me that she didn’t want the job and that she would be calling in sick. She was resisting training and was telling staff that she could do the job better and she wouldn’t listen or try the standard and proven procedures. When crunch time hit, she failed to do the job correctly and was upset and stressed out. The supervisor conducting the investigation is her friend and didn’t question me or any witnesses. She told me that she felt like this woman was just blowing off steam and that she didn’t question this woman and witnesses because she didn’t want to get other staff involved.

It’s been two weeks since the death threat happened in front of staff. And I still haven’t been questioned about the incident, only about my physical contact after the incident. I am co-operating and am just frustrated that they won’t investigate a death threat from a female employee towards a male but they will ask questions about a male consoling a female. I do appreciate your in depth response and will read it again several times as I have a meeting with the administrator tomorrow. Dear Upset: Your follow up note provides more detail, and the meeting with administration today holds some promise for a resolution to your satisfaction. Obviously, both the supervisor, who failed to carefully and professionally investigate the death threat, will want to save face, as well as do you. Saving face is important, but even more important is the cost of this conflict to your company. It has taken time away from doing what this woman, your supervisor, and you are hired to do, and now it also will take time from those with whom you will meet today. For example, preparing for this meeting distracts all concerned from the high quality performance much needed for a competitive business. I don’t know if you have time to prepare a written account, but it would be wise to have one with you that you have time to edit well, and if you don’t have time, it would be wise to state that you will submit one. So how might you express your self without accusing your supervisor of incompetence and coming across defensively? I don’t know if that is possible, but it is important to try.

Early on when you have a chance to speak, a positive tone might be set by expressing your cooperation and your eagerness to get back to what all of you are hired to do–to make money for your company. See this meeting with administration is an opportunity for you to restate your request for an investigation, not as one a quick-fix to find blame. I would take a request for an investigation writing with you. You should have time to do that. It is also a time when you can orally restate your intention to follow the supervisor’s advice to smooth it over and that you regret that you expressed that with the nonverbal gesture of a pat on the back. Rather than charging your supervisor as playing favorites for this woman, who is her friend, you might acknowledge that her intentions to smooth it over were good-hearted even if misguided.

Of course from here, I can’t foresee or advise you how to conduct your self during the meeting. I can’t whisper the appropriate phrases to be said with the right tone. But I can suggest that you are justified in requesting an investigation and that that should happen if you have a professional demeanor. –Dr. G Follow Up 2 from Upset: I kept a positive attitude as you suggested and portrayed a willingness to resolve the issue. I was informed the Office Manager took over and reinvestigated the complaint. And I was assured it was done appropriately.

I did what you suggested and brought in a detailed report of dates and times which I already had a paralegal prepare for me. Was short, direct and truthful on my answers. But kept my comments to the minimal and kept the questions and answers positive.

When everything was done and I was asked how I wanted this resolved I mentioned a written reprimand that would stay in the staffs local file, after 3 years of no more issues it could be removed which is a local policy, and I requested training for all supervisors in how to appropriately handle a complaint of any nature but especially of one as serious as workplace violence. And this is over with so we can all get back to doing our jobs as you suggested. I haven’t been written up but was told to expect a memo regarding what was discussed in the meeting. Will see what happens now. Thanks for your help; I think it assisted me in going in with a different attitude. Dear Upset: From here, it seems you prepared well and handled this meeting the best you possibly could. May this situation fade and more constructive thoughts about work and life in general occupy your mind. –Coach

Follow Up 3 from Upset With a different frame of mind than I would have had otherwise.

William Gorden