Being “relieved of duty” signifies that an employee is under some form of investigation (e.g., administrative or criminal) for an incident that may be either work-related or non-work-related. Some examples of being under investigation include allegations of violations of the Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP), driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), lying, domestic violence (DV), child abuse, fraternization or other serious criminal conduct. Being under an investigation is an extremely stressful experience for any employee. He or she is often full of questions, doubts and uncertainty. There are often questions about what the allegations are as well as their origin. There is usually a sense of not having much (or any) control over the outcome of the situation. When the incident involves allegations of criminal conduct, there are often additional concerns of a pending criminal filing of the case. Ultimately, for many, a significant worry centers on whether they will be able to keep their job. There are many types of reactions someone can have when informed that they are being relieved of duty. Some thoughts often shared by people in this situation include:
• The risk of reprimand or even termination from employment
• Concerns about the cost of legal representation, especially when it involves a criminal matter
• Concerns about the ability to pay bills
• Concerns about what others will think about them
Some people find that they ruminate (or get stuck in their thoughts) about the situation that led up to being relieved of duty. Particular emotions, which are our body’s natural way of expressing how we feel, are also common in people going through these events. Some of these emotions include high levels of worry, anger, shame, anxiety, guilt, sadness or even depression. In a few cases, these feelings may also overwhelm your natural coping system, such as when there are feelings of sadness that turn into thoughts of hurting yourself. Physical reactions to the stressors of being relieved of duty can include, but are not limited to, difficulty sleeping, irritability, decreased appetite and decreased interest in doing pleasurable activities. Social responses to being relieved of duty often include isolation from others, such as not returning phone calls, not wanting to leave the house and wanting to be alone (even away from your family or significant other).
So, what can you do if you find yourself struggling in this type of situation? One option is to seek and be receptive to the support of others, such as family and friends. Talking with family and friends can help take your mind off of the situation and offer a nice temporary distraction. Alternatively, when you speak to someone who knows something about being relieved, you might feel better knowing someone else “gets it,” or maybe you are offered some tips for how to get through it. For some people, talking to a therapist in a confidential setting (whether Psychological Services Bureau or someone in private practice) may be helpful to discuss thoughts and feelings associated with the emotional and physical impact of being under investigation. Physical exercise such as walking or running is also a natural form of a stress reliever and often makes people feel better. If you are having difficulty sleeping, it might be helpful to establish a bedtime and wakeup routine (e.g., going to bed and waking up at the same time every day), limit the number of naps per day, design your bedroom for sleep only, and limit your caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake. If that’s not enough, maybe it would be helpful to see your primary care physician for a medical evaluation.
If you would like to discuss additional tools for coping with being relieved of duty, consider contacting the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 for a consultation or a confidential appointment.