Dear Evil HR Lady,

How should one react when an employee is told by the corporate office over the phone that they may not have any more vacation advanced to them and the employee rants and raves about how unfair it is and finishes with, “I am so frustrated, I could kill myself! And the bank [continues ranting]” Should one document the incident and then:

1. Assume the person is just venting watch the employee closely in the future;
2. Send upper management to her location to take a closer look at the situation and then debate the merits of options 1 and 2 with someone;
3. Take the threat seriously and advise the employee the next day, after her temper cools, that she must get counseling before she returns to work (sadly, we do not have an EAP);
4. Take the threat super seriously and have her escorted off the site where she is working as a subcontractor at a federal facility, which will likely have her clearance revoked and cause her to lose her job and any chance of working in that field in the future;
5. Something else I’ve missed?

Love your blog, by the way!


Dear Anne,

I really, really hope this is purely a hypothetical question. Although I have a feeling that it’s the same type of hypothetical question that I used when I said to my husband, “would you be upset if I told you I managed to put a six foot scrape along the side of the car?”

I took your question to my evil colleagues and they all said, “Yikes.” That was the only thing they agreed on. One said, ignore it, normal rant, but especially don’t do number 4. A second said:

At minimum, I would say document and three. Even as angry as I’ve been about certain work situations in the past, there’s always a line about how much “venting” is appropriate. For them to even consider uttering that line, let alone saying it out loud, indicates a problem. It’s so interesting that you should have to tackle this one now. I was just this morning relaying to my husband the need for a company to have a dr’s clearance upon an ee’s return from any LOA, to reduce the company’s exposure and potential for liability. I think that’s exactly the thing that this person needs to consider. And especially in today’s environment, people can not be afraid to seriously address these issues. Does this person want to be responsible for the next major news headline? These are the types of scenarios where if you can look back and say with a clear conscience that you did what you were supposed to do in order to address the situation, then you have done the right thing.

Initially, my gut response would be to see what their policy says in this situation, but the lack of one is why I’m assuming this person e-mailed to begin with…another example where lack of policy, procedure and employee assistance programs can open up a business to tons of exposure.

A third said that pychologists have to take all suicidal/homicidal threats seriously (even if they are 100% sure the person is just venting), and so should HR.

My vote most closely goes with your third option. Your company has no EAP (employee assistance program), but I think you should discuss with the ranting employee that what she said was not appropriate and that she needs to be evaluated. Then I would have the company hire someone to evaluate her. Whatever the cost for a psychological evaluation, it would be cheaper in the long run and much safer for your company. Asking an employee to go out and find her own counselor before returning to work is a really high burden. If her temper really is a problem, asking her to pay for one could make things worse.

If there isn’t really a problem, the company will be out $200-$300 for a licensed professional to talk to the woman. If there is a problem, the company will have just saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars dealing with the aftermath of an employee pushed over the edge.

Good luck,

Evil HR Lady

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6 thoughts on “Normal Ranting or a Real Problem

  1. Yikes, indeed! I think most people have “threatened” to kill someone/themselves as part of a rant but nowdays you just can’t take that chance.

  2. I am the one who posted the original question. It wasn’t hypothetical, although I wish it were. We are a small company, so some of our policies and procedures are lacking. We thought we had the important stuff covered, but it doesn’t seem like we ever will at this rate!

    It’s sad that we need to have special policy guidelines to handle the borderline rants that an employee may have. We have policies regarding physical illness and injury, but really nothing regarding something that the company deems a mental health emergency when the employee does not agree that there is a problem. It’s easier to convince an employee that there is an issue when there is a physical issue. And I’m not sure how to put that blurb in an employee handbook that states something along the lines of, ‘If the company deems you a mental health risk, you must be evaluated before you can return to work’ without opening us up to even more liability.

    Out of curiousity, if we handle this like an illness of some kind where the employee needs to have a work release to come back, how should we handle the time off? We don’t offer PTO other than vacation, which this person does not have. I fear that forcing unpaid leave until she gets that note might make the situation worse.

  3. Anonymous 11:27 I think you are right. But a company just can’t take the risk now days. Sad commentary on the state of the world.

  4. To the original question asker, boy, I don’t know what I’d do about time off. Clearly, if this woman had sufficient vacation we wouldn’t be in this problem.

    My bet is that if you have her evaluated, the evaluator will say she’s fine and it will only be an hour or two off work. (See how I’m avoiding your real question–how very HR like of me!)

    What did you decide to do? I’m curious.

  5. We did #2 first (my boss is of the ‘wait and see’ or ‘hurry up and wait’ school of thought) and the VP told her that #4 will be taken in the future. The next morning, I got a note from the employee stating, ‘I apologize for yesterday and I understand that one is not allowed to complain in this company and we just have to take what we get.’

    Personally, I was leaning towards #3, but sending her to a professional a few days or a week later seemed inappropriate since she had returned to work and I couldn’t get the cost approved in any case. I am looking into psychologists that will schedule an appointment on very short notice so she won’t be out of work for more than a day and see if we can handle it like an injury at work administratively, so this person can get paid for the time off to be evaluated if I can get a same day appointment.

  6. Oh dear, it sounds like she doesn’t get it. It’s not the complaining–it’s the threatening.

    I think it’s wise to have a psychologist readily available–since you don’t have an established EAP.

    See, isn’t HR fun?

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