Last Update: 3/26/13 (Transmittal I-2-90)
Citation: 404.937, 416.1437, and 422.901-422.907
The following procedures apply to all hearing operations employees in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).
In any life-threatening or potentially life-threatening situation, hearing operations personnel involved or alerted must act immediately to protect the life and safety of the claimant, the public, and other agency personnel. Even mere suggestions of suicidal, homicidal, or other violent potential must be treated as a legitimate threat.
All hearing operation offices must implement the following emergency procedures to prepare for any situation in which an individual is on-site and threatening violence:
One specific employee in each office must be designated to immediately convey the threat to the on-site Physical Security Officer (PSO), Federal Protective Service (FPS), and local law enforcement. Preferably, the designated employee will be a management official such as a Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge, Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge (HOCALJ), or Hearing Office Director (HOD). An alternate employee must be assigned to act in case of the designee's absence.
Another employee must be designated to quickly clear the office of all other employees and the public. An alternate employee must be assigned to act as an alternate in case of the designee's absence.
All offices must maintain an up-to-date list of referral sources (e.g., suicide prevention hotlines and crisis intervention centers) staffed by people who are trained to deal with individuals threatening suicide or homicide. The names and numbers of such sources and the local police number must be recorded as emergency numbers on all office telephones.
An immediate threat exists when hearing operations personnel become aware, whether through face-to-face, telephone, or written contact with the individual, that a life-threatening or violent action is imminent.
A threatening individual may believe that he or she is in a hostile environment. When speaking with the individual, hearings operations personnel must not attempt to dispute the individual's contentions, and must avoid any action that may increase the individual's level of agitation. If an employee feels it is too dangerous to talk with the individual, then he or she needs to seek safety for himself or herself and the rest of the office.
When a claimant or other individual appears to present an immediate threat to a hearing operations employee or to others, the employee will immediately:
Notify the employee designated to convey the information to the appropriate personnel and authorities; and
The designated employee will immediately notify the on-site Physical Security Officer (PSO), or call the Federal Protective Service (FPS) at 1-877-437-7411. If the PSO and FPS are unavailable, the designated employee will contact local law enforcement. Building security must also be alerted.
Depending on the circumstances, it may also be appropriate to contact the individual's representative, treating physician, spouse or relatives, or representative payee for assistance in pacifying the individual.
Additionally, the designated employee will notify:
the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) local Office of Investigations (OI) (to contact your local OI, refer to POMS GN 04124.010);
the servicing field office (FO); and,
the ODAR Regional Office (RO).
Management must also follow the procedures outlined in Administrative Instructions Manual System (AIMS) General Administration Manual (GAM) 12.07 and generate a report of the incident.
Management must immediately notify any employee who is or may be the target of a threat. If the employee is present in the office, management must notify the threatened employee in person and provide the threatened employee with as much information as possible about the threat.
If the threatened employee is not physically present in the workplace at the time the potential threat is made or becomes known, management staff must follow emergency contact procedures provided in the office's Physical Security Action Plan to notify the threatened employee of the potential threat as soon as possible.
If management staff is not immediately available, the ODAR employee who becomes aware of the potential threat of violence must attempt to contact the targeted employee. Management must also follow the procedures outlined in the AIMS GAM 12.07, Automated Incident Reporting System (AIRS), and generate a report of the incident.
Even when the claimant or other individual is not on-site, a threatening phone call or writing, including e-mail, must be treated as an emergency situation.
A hearing operations employee who has taken a phone call in which the claimant or other individual is threatening violence must attempt to alert management – without putting the caller on hold – and obtain the following information:
the identity of the caller,
the identity of the individual posing the threat, if he or she is not the caller,
the time the call was received,
the claim involved,
the specific nature of the aggrieved person's complaint, and
the target, the threatened action, and the timing.
A hearing operations employee who receives a phone message or writing threatening violence must immediately alert management. Management will:
notify the subject of the threat,
obtain information to aid personnel in locating the claim or record,
identify the claimant or other individual making the threat, and
attempt to understand the specific nature of his or her complaint.
The designated employee will take immediate steps to notify the FPS (1-877-437-7411) and the local OIG office (refer to POMS GN 04124.010). If FPS is not available, the employee should contact local law enforcement. In addition, the employee must notify building security, the servicing FO and RO, and local crisis counselors. The employee may take any other measures to protect the safety of all parties, including, in some circumstances, clearing the office.
Management must also follow the procedures outlined in AIMS GAM 12.07 and generate a report of the incident.
If there is potential suicidal, homicidal, or other violent behavior, but no immediate threat, the following actions are necessary:
Management must alert any employee(s) who are specifically threatened.
If the threat is associated with a claim, staff must record all details on a Report of Contact (RC) and scan or place in Section D of the electronic or paper file. If the claim or record is being handled outside the hearing level, staff must call or e-mail the component with jurisdiction of the case. Staff will confirm a phone call with a written RC, or confirm an e-mail by scanning a printed copy of the e-mail into the D section of the electronic file (redact names and email addresses) or forwarding a printed copy (redact names and email addresses) to the component for placement in the paper folder.
In all cases, staff must notify the servicing FO of the threat using the instructions in D.3 below.
Staff should also notify the ODAR RO.
Management must also follow the procedures outlined in AIMS GAM 12.07 and generate a report of the incident.
A claim involving a threat of violence must be given expedited processing. A specific employee, such as the HOD, Administrative Officer, or Regional Management Officer, must be designated as the employee responsible for coordinating expedited processing of these cases. If the administrative law judge (ALJ) renders a favorable decision, the designated person will promptly inform the claimant by telephone. See HALLEX I-2-1-40 for additional information about processing cases involving potential suicide or homicide.
To protect the public and SSA personnel, ODAR will take necessary precautions when scheduling a hearing for a claimant who poses a threat or has been banned from SSA or other Federal facilities.
If a claimant is banned from SSA facilities, ODAR will provide the claimant with the opportunity for a hearing by telephone. For information on how SSA bans individuals from entering SSA offices, see HALLEX I-2-1-38.
In other cases involving a threat of violence, the HOCALJ will determine, based on the request of any hearing office employee and after consultation with the presiding ALJ, whether the claimant or other individual poses a reasonable threat to the safety of SSA personnel or other participants in the hearing. The HOCALJ will find that a claimant or other individual poses a reasonable threat to the safety of SSA personnel or other participants in the hearing if there is a reasonable likelihood that the claimant or other individual could act on the threat, or the evidence suggests that a claimant or other individual poses a threat. The HOCALJ will consider all relevant evidence, including any information in the claimant's record and any information regarding the claimant's or other individual's past conduct. The HOCALJ's actions are final and not subject to further review.
If the HOCALJ determines that the claimant or other individual poses a reasonable threat to the safety of our personnel or other participants in the hearing, the HOCALJ will either:
Require the presence of a security guard at the hearing; or
Require that the hearing be conducted by telephone.
The HOCALJ's finding must be documented in the claim(s) file. Instructions on how to input a Message can be found in section D.3., below.
In all cases the servicing FO must be notified so the FO can place the individual in the Visitor Intake Process (VIP) High Risk Alert system. This ensures that all of the cross-component systems are annotated with the ban information. The hearing operation notifies the FO using the following procedures.
Input the Case Processing and Management System case characteristic “Potentially Homicidal/Violent (HOMC)” in the Case Characteristic screen and annotate any relevant comments in the REMARKS field. See HALLEX I-2-1-40 for additional information on processing cases involving potential suicide or homicide.
In addition, add a Message in the “Alerts and Messages” tab in eView. To input a Message:
Lock the case in eView.
Once the case is locked, click on the “Add Message” tab.
Type in the message documenting the circumstances of the threat and hearing operation's action, and click “okay.”
Save the additions and then unlock the case.
The circumstances of the threat and the action taken by the hearing operations employee must be fully documented in a RC that is placed or scanned into the D section of the paper or electronic file. For paper folders, prong-file a copy of the RC on top of the right side of the folder to make it fully visible. Attach a Critical Request Evaluation Sheet (found in HALLEX I-2-1-95) to the front of the file to indicate that the case must be expedited because of suicidal or homicidal potential.
When a claimant has threatened violence, the decision writer must be careful to avoid any language that might be derogatory, harmful, or offensive to the claimant. The use of emotionally charged words must be avoided. However, there may be situations where language that might be derogatory, harmful, or offensive to the claimant is relevant to the ultimate issue of disability, and needs to be included in the decision. In these situations, the decision must not be sent to the claimant. See HALLEX I-2-8-35 for instructions about who should receive the decision in this circumstance.
An ODAR manager must prepare a fact sheet no later than four hours after confirming an incident or activity that could be perceived as “outside of standard operations,” has the potential for negative publicity, or generates inquiries from the media.
The fact sheet will be submitted to the Office of Budget, Facilities and Security (OBFS), Division of Security (DOS), Physical Security Branch. Hearing offices must also send a copy to the ODAR RO and Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge in OCALJ (ATTN: Division of Administrative Support). After initial review by ODAR executives and the Associate Commissioner of OBFS, an informational copy of the fact sheet will be forwarded to the appropriate SSA executive level staff.
The ROs must update all fact sheets on a continuing basis until there are no “pending actions.” After all actions have been resolved, the RO will submit an updated fact sheet to OCALJ indicating that there are “no pending actions.”
OBFS and OCALJ will forward a bi-weekly consolidated report on all pending fact sheets to the Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review. The report will include updated information on each incident.
The fact sheet will remain open until all issues are resolved and DOS closes the report.