Handling Employee Threats of Suicide
By Sonal Shah, JD, Senior Employment Law Counsel
Published November 14, 2017
Through the years, the Management Association has received many HR Hotline calls related to threats of suicide by employees. We've found that many HR professionals were at a loss on how to handle the situation.
While it is something we hope we never have to handle, it is something we should be prepared to deal with as HR professionals. First and foremost, all threats of suicide should be taken seriously and preventative action should be taken as quickly as possible. If it appears an employee is planning something immediately (the employee has told you or another employee about a specific plan of action, the employee is on your building’s ledge, etc.), call the police ASAP. In such cases, the police or an ambulance will typically come to your workplace to assess and possibly transport the employee to the local emergency room or mental health facility.
If you are unsure of the immediacy or seriousness of the situation (the threat came your way through rumor, or the employee only made vague remarks or threats), you should conduct an investigation and talk to the employee before taking action. If the results of your investigation show imminent danger, follow the steps above. If not, this might be a good time to offer the employee the services of your EAP or information about a suicide hotline. Of course, when you cannot conduct an investigation in a timely manner, it’s better to seek assistance, rather than delay taking action.
Regardless of the level of the threat, do not force the employee to take time off (though you can offer it as an option to the employee). Also, do not terminate the employee without obtaining legal guidance. See Lizotte v. Dacotah Bank, case no. 4:08-cv-084 (D.N.D, January 7, 2010) (refusing to grant the employer summary judgment where employee who threatened suicide and was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit for four days was terminated because of the impact of his actions in the community and the ability to perform his job, despite receiving a full release from his doctor).
Of course, if you have specific questions, Management Association members should contact the HR Hotline at 800-448-4584 or firstname.lastname@example.org.