Options to Consider When an Employee Threatens to Commit Suicide

I have an employee who has threatened to commit suicide. We are very concerned. What should we do, and do we have any obligations?

These are chaotic times and this question is occurring far too frequently. There are no laws directing employers on how to handle such a situation.

However, if you have an intense situation where it appears the employee is about to commit harm to him/herself, you should call 911 immediately.

Alternatively, you can take the individual to an emergency room after ascertaining he/she has no ways to commit such harm.

Evaluation by Experts

At a hospital, experts can determine whether the individual needs to be placed on a three-day hold, which describes a medical stay at the hospital or a psychiatric facility in which the person’s mental state is evaluated.

Clinical psychologists or psychiatrists make determinations about the nature of the person’s mental illness and the ability of the individual to function independently.

Suicide Prevention Helpline

Another possibility is to provide the employee with a suicide prevention telephone number.

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline number is: (800) 273-8255. It is a United States-based suicide prevention network of more than 160 crisis centers that provide 24/7 service, available to anyone in suicidal crisis.

Employee Assistance Program

Many employers provide employees with an employee assistance program (EAP) benefit. The EAP assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may have an impact on the employees’ job performance, health, or mental and emotional well-being.

EAPs generally offer free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services for employees.

Wellness Check

When an employee has expressed threats of suicide, be it to his/her employer/fellow employees or on social media, then doesn’t come in to work, another option is a police wellness check.

A wellness check is an in-person call from local law enforcement to someone whose behavior has become suspicious in some way. Usually requested by a friend or family member, the service is available to everyone and is something that cops take seriously. An employer often is in a position to make such a request.

During the tumultuous year 2020 became, this has become an increasingly asked question, and employers are wise to heed the threats.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.

Staff Contact: Dana Leisinger

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Dana Leisinger joined the CalChamber in 2000 and currently serves as an employment law expert. She has advised employers on matters such as employment law, wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and wage and hour issues. She also has conducted seminars and training and guided employers through various levels of governmental investigations. Leisinger holds a J.D. from the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.