For the most part, the people who work in the public sector are well meaning folk who want to contribute to the betterment of the broader community. Occasionally, a handful of people—through their words and actions—strike fear in the hearts of public sector employees. For example:
The entity needs to interpret and address threats against specific people or the particular entity or agency. Staff members need to discern an “empty threat” from one that is serious. They need to know when a threat should be reported to law enforcement or when to obtain outside help addressing threats.
Determining which threat to take seriously, which is just venting or which is a hoax is part experience, part intuition and part luck. The nonprofit can create policies that put people on notice that threats will not be tolerated. For instance:
Bomb Threats—Employees or volunteers shall not engage in any illegal conduct involving firebombs, explosive or incendiary materials or devices or hoax explosive devices or chemical bombs as defined in the state code. Moreover, employees or volunteers shall not make any real or false threats to bomb the nonprofit’s personnel or property.
In addition to these specific standards, make it clear that staff shall not engage in any conduct which materially and substantially disrupts the organization’s programs or which is otherwise a violation of federal, state or local law.
The nonprofit can create policies and procedures to tell employees and volunteers how they are expected to handle specific threats, such as:
“No bomb threat or arson threat call should be taken as a joke or disregarded. Treat all such calls as real threats to safety and immediately contact the Security Department. This includes threats of death or bodily injury.
The nonprofit can post procedures in the workplace.
“Suspicious Parcels or Letters
Do not try to open the mail piece!
Isolate the mail piece.
Evacuate the immediate area.
Call a Postal Inspector to report that you’ve received a letter or parcel in the mail that may contain biological or chemical substances.”
The nonprofit can alert senior management to take calls seriously when a terminated employee or a dismissed client appears to be exceptionally agitated.
This is a case of it is better to be safe than sorry. If there is any possibility that the threat to harm to property or personnel is real, call in the next level of defense. Follow the chain of command in your organization—unless the threat is imminent. If the person threatens and immediately follows through, staff members should be instructed to call 9-1-1 (or the variation of this emergency number in the community). If the staff member has a wireless device, the person should leave the building and make the call. If the individual can safely call from within the building, he/she should call from there. Instruct personnel to calm down by taking several deep breaths, then speaking slowly, say what the threat is (man with a gun; ticking package, etc.), give his/her name, the address of the building and the number of people on the scene (in the building, on the playing field, etc.)
When one of your employees or volunteers has been threatened with physical harm, it is important to take immediate action to protect the employee or volunteer. First, meet with the person to obtain details of the threat and assess their feelings about its seriousness and fear level. Next, discuss with the individual what steps the organization might take. Some of the steps that you might agree on include:
In some cases an angry employee, volunteer or client may threaten to sue the nonprofit. At a minimum, make a record of the threat and file a note indicating the statement made, and date and time in the appropriate file in your office (e.g. personnel, volunteer, client, vendor, unknown person file). Even before the nonprofit is threatened, speak to the organization’s insurance advisor (broker or agent) about whether your particular insurance providers want threats of litigation reported as “incidents” under your current policies. This differs on a company-to-company basis. Some companies prefer to receive notice of incidents so that they can decide whether any assistance or intervention on their part will potentially ward off the threatened litigation. Others prefer that their insureds only report formal lawsuits or other claims.
At some time your nonprofit may receive a threatening phone call. It’s a good idea to train the people who answer the phone in your nonprofit to respond appropriately. At a minimum, the staff member should try to record as much information as possible about the caller and the threat. Many organizations that have experience in this area report that using a checklist is the best strategy for recording pertinent details of the threatening call.
Barrett, Stephen, Protecting Against Workplace Violence,” Public Risk, May/June 1997, Public Risk Management Association
OSH Answers: Violence in the Workplace, Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health
OSHA Fact Sheet: Workplace Violence
OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Workplace Violence