(Bradley C Bower/AP)

With threats against its employees on the rise, the Social Security Administration is banning people from visiting the agency’s field offices in person if they make threats against its workers or buildings.

The agency said its nationwide ban would apply to any person who makes threats in person, over the phone, or in writing, or who causes disruptions to employees and visitors in its offices. Those who make threats will be forced to seek services online or by phone.

The change in policy, which took effect this week, is still open to public comment, but will likely go into full effect sometime after Nov. 1.

SSA field offices recorded more than 45 million visits in fiscal 2010 and hosted more than 738,000 hearings before administrative law judges, according to the agency. Though 90 percent of visitors rated the agency’s services as excellent, the agency said it regularly receives threats of all sorts against its workers, other federal employees, members of the public, and the agency’s security guards and office buildings.

Threats against SSA workers jumped to nearly 2,800 in fiscal 2010, up 43 percent from the previous year and consistent with growing threats against federal workers, lawmakers and federal court personnel.

The Justice Department charged 352 defendants with killing, assaulting or threatening federal employees in fiscal 2010, up slightly from the previous year. Though threats against lawmakers have generally leveled off, threats against federal judges and personnel have more than doubled in recent years.

Warnings about a potential ban will be posted in agency offices. People who are banned will be informed in writing and reminded that they can visit the agency’s Web site or call its toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) for assistance. Banned individuals will be able to appeal the decision and may select someone to visit agency offices on their behalf, if necessary.

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