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Dealing with Insane Co-Workers

By Christopher Schonberger

If your boss or co-worker is totally insane, can you have him or her institutionalized? It seems like a pretty clever plan—it’s late in the day, you’re hoping to get in a few good hours at the arcade later, but your boss is raving like an absolute lunatic. Instead of pulling an all-nighter to help him “bag the golden goose,” just call up social services and have him tossed in the funny farm (the only place this creature resides). Problem solved.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. In response to George Clooney’s new joint Michael Clayton—a legal thriller in which Clooney’s character considers having his colleague thrown in the insane asylum to sabotage a big case—Slate.com’s “Explainer” answers an intriguing question: “Under what circumstances can you force a loved one, suspicious officemate, or eccentric celebrity [i.e. Britney] into the nuthouse?”

Not surprisingly, the process varies from state to state and requires multiple steps that are a bit trickier than making a few phone calls. As a rule of thumb, the person’s alleged mental illness must pose an “immediate, substantial threat of physical harm to himself or others” in order for involuntary detainment to be a viable option of disposal. In places like California, the standards are a bit more lax—maybe because everyone’s so “laidback.” In Cali, if a person’s “mental illness limits [his] access to food and shelter,” he’s eligible for an involuntary trip to the loony bin. Pack your bags, Nicole Richie—you are totally insane!

Anyway, getting a co-worker or roommate out of your life and into the care of a psychiatric ward is definitely not a “quick fix,” but in extreme circumstances it can be done. Many moons ago (well, maybe just like 200), I worked in an office that was shared by an online advertising firm staffed primarily by nutcases. The “boss” would often walk into the kitchen/storage cupboard where my friend and I worked, sit down dramatically, and regale us with tales of how his Akita—“a massive dog that the samurai used to hunt bears”—had literally killed several other innocent dogs. Another dude had a habit of tiptoeing in, closing the door quietly, and then yelling some insanely inappropriate and irrelevant remark. (It was also usually racist in some way.) He would then reopen the door and walk away laughing like a lunatic.

Since I wasn’t actually doing any work and I only feared slightly for my safety, I treated these little interruptions as comic interludes to an otherwise meaningless day. But at least I know now that if things had really gotten out of hand, I might have had recourse for action.

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