I have a subordinate who has in the past expressed suicidal thoughts. His performance over the past 6-8 months has been unacceptable. He has numerous documented coaching and performance improvement measures taken without any notable improvement. Were it not for his predilection with suicide I'd probably let him go.

Any ideas/suggestions?

  • Do you have any insight into why they may have been suicidal? Did they experience a stressful event in their personal lives such as death , divorce, family dysfunction etc? How planned is he in that he will carry out his plan? Did you ask any questions to probe his mindset at that time?
    – Anthony
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 0:33
  • @Anthony I'm not sure how that information will let you answer this issue any better. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 10:04

5 Answers 5


This is a very tough situation. There are several potential circumstances to take into account, from what if/optics perspectives to local/state/federal employment guideline/law perspectives.

Depending on the nature of his performance deficiencies, you may consider giving some type of leave, whether paid or unpaid. I ran into a similar circumstance, and our HR team decided he needed to take immediate leave for a month, utilize our mental health benefits, and come back with immediate and sustained improvement.

If you don't have a good HR team that is very familiar with local/state employment guidelines, you absolutely need to contact a local HR consultancy firm. And, make sure you ask them if they have significant experience with this type of situation and their outcomes. It's going to cost you, but I believe it will be money very well spent.

You don't want to see on your local news site that this guy committed suicide after losing his job at your organization.

  • 2
    I'd edit the last sentence as it implies the only issue with someone leaving your command to commit suicide is the news coverage and not the humane factor, as if it was a remote town with no newspaper it would be a-ok Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 14:30
  • 6
    @ricardosilva I disagree with your interpretation of the last sentence. I read it as "You don't want to find out later that the employee committed suicide after they lost their job and wonder if there was more you could have done to help them." It's not about the company being in the news. If the employee was fired, how else would someone who is no longer in contact with them find out they had committed suicide except by reading an obituary in the local paper?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 16:53
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    @ColleenV aahh. It makes total sense, I completely misinterpreted it. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 16:58
  • If someone is suicidal, I personally don't think that expecting improvements after 1 month of leave is realistic. I have been there, it takes a lot longer to climb out of that hole. I don't think the pressure of that expectation will help either. I don't have any solutions, but I personally needed a long period of unemployment to get my mental health in check.
    – gorgabal
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 11:50

This is what HR is for, in this case: HR IS YOUR FRIEND

This person is suffering from an illness which is affecting his performance. Most HR departments have access to, or can direct an employee to mental health services, which this person seems to be in desperate need of. Be prepared to replace him with a temp, as he may not be able to work while he's getting treatment.

UNDERSTAND THIS This is neither your fault nor your responsibility. Do not try to "save" him. If you are not a mental health professional, you can do more harm than good. He needs to be evaluated, assessed, and treated. That is not your job.

Notify HR about any suicidal tendencies he's expressed, and be as detailed as possible. Speak to them privately first and ask for guidance, then let HR reach out to him.

In the future, it should be all hands on deck at the first mention of suicide or depression, especially with the world being the way it is now. Someone who is suicidal can be a danger, not only to themselves, but to others as well, as the thoughts can turn towards workplace violence, so this should always be taken very VERY seriously.


Get to HR right away, brief them on what's going on, and hand this guy off to them. Look into hiring a temp, because he may go out on disability for a while.

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    Our wonderful human brains are based on "voodoo chemistry." It's rather amazing that they work at all. Your employee therefore might have a medical condition that s/he is not aware of. Mental health problems are insidious because they are directly affecting the very thing which must perceive them. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 14:49
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    @MikeRobinson Oh, when I pass, I'm donating my brain to science fiction. I'm autistic, brain injured and LD. I wonder what they'll find after my passing..... Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 14:58

You talk to HR. If you don't have an HR department, get yourself an external HR consultant - you are dealing with someone who is suffering from an illness, and that always means you need to be careful about how you handle any dealings with them

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    Could you add some information on what steps to take? Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 18:15
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    @Old_Lamplighter Whatever HR says to do. Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 18:20

I totally agree with going to HR. I wanted to add that we've been engaged with COVID for over a year now so I think I can assume this person bad days started in this period.

Rest of my answer is based on the assumption of that COVID changed working routine of this person.

I had this problem and I was severely depressed with dark thoughts and very bad performance, what helped me was my company allowed me to come to office for my work and that turned everything around.

For me (or many others) just going "out" for work gives some sense of purpose. In absence of that feel, mind plays dangerous games.

I understand that going to office is not the best health advice right now but this person is in more danger this way if in fact this is the case for him. Maybe offering him this option can help the situation.


My answer assumes that this individual was a good performing employee until just recently. First, don't talk about him being suicidal unless he specifically brings it up. You don't want to be dropping things about suicide as it might make you look like you were telling him to do it.

I do agree that going to HR is important here. I would also bring any evidence of his suicidal thoughts. It is important that you get these things documented now in the event that the unfortunate event occurs that your employee commits suicide. HR may have helplines and other things. It also protects you because it shows that you're noticing it and attempting to fix it.

If you are the owner of the company or just a small company, I would look into talking to a lawyer about the legal ramifications of knowing about a suicidal employee and what sort of legal repercussions there are, if any. There's a good chance if he commits the act, or if you fire him knowing he is suicidal about his job, then you could be sued in a civil court and his family could win a very large amount. Criminally, I do not think you have anything unless you're purposely making him suicidal and even then the law is fairly limited to what you can be charged with unless you're forcing him to perform some sort of action.

Aside from that, I think you can talk to him. Just put him in a private room and tell him point blank. "Jim, I notice your work is suffering and your behavior has changed. Do you want to talk about it?"

Perhaps making him go on a vacation for a time will help him out or perhaps if his situation is limited, you can assign him to lesser tasks until the situation rolls over. This is only if he was a good performer before whatever event caused him to degrade. It's totally up to you on how to handle that.

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    The first paragraph is wrong. I've been to several anti-suicide trainings. The big takeaway is that you DO NOT need to be afraid to talk about it. Obviously don't suggest suicide, but asking "Hey, I'm worried about you. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?" will NOT plant the idea. If they're thinking about it, they're thinking about it. Letting them talk about it with zero judgement will help relieve any pressure they feel. This is especially true if they've previously expressed suicidal thoughts.
    – Kyle A
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 18:06
  • " First, don't talk about him being suicidal unless he specifically brings it up." - This is literally the first thing that is taught, on what NOT to do, with regards to somebody who has shared a desired to commit suicide.
    – Donald
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 20:59
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    @KyleA I think I misquote it because what you said is exactly what I wrote at the bottom. What I meant as the first paragraph was not to bring up the word “suicide” or “kill yourself.” Such as “are you going to kill yourself, Jim?” Vs what I wrote at the bottom.
    – Dan
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 22:45

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