Last week, the CEO of a small manufacturing firm called me. He had just broken up a fist fight between two workers.
After he and his supervisor broke up the brawl, he sent them both home and called me. He was pretty shook up. He felt he knew what to do but wanted to be sure and frankly, I think he just needed to talk to someone who could be objective and unemotional. Turns out the guy who threw the first punch were a good employee; the other wasn’t. Both ended up losing their jobs.
Fighting in the workplace can never be tolerated and if it should ever occur, management must take action FAST. Whether it’s a verbal altercation or if fists are flying, either are forms of workplace violence.
Mangers and supervisors should immediately do the following six things:
- Put a stop to it: Arguments can quickly turn to punches. Move to end it without physically getting involved. If the employees don’t stop, call the police. And if a weapon is brandished, take cover and call “911.”
Separate the two: Once things are settled, send them home (assuming the police have not been called). Put them on unpaid leave (unless you have policy or a union contract that calls for a paid leave). You want them out of the worksite to avoid additional squabbles. It will also allow you to begin an investigation.
Conduct an investigation: Find out what happened. Talk to witnesses. You will also have to talk to the perpetrators. Review your polices and procedures to ensure you are consistent and compliant. Pull the employee’s files to see if either had exhibited other bad behaviors.
Discipline the employees: Depending on the results of your investigation and their behaviors (yelling will likely be dealt with differently than drawing blood), take the appropriate action from a warning, to suspension to termination. When fists are thrown, termination is appropriate. As noted earlier, violence can never be tolerated. If weapons are involved, this has become a police matter.
Document: With any investigation and disciplinary action, clear, concise documentation is required.
Talk to your other employees: When the dust has settled, talk to your employees. Listen to their concerns and fears. Be clear about your position on violence. Demand civility and respect. If you have an EAP, call them in.
Brawling and hollering in the workplace can destroy morale, torpedo productivity, and unchecked, breed a culture of disrespect and violence. To prevent it from happening in your workplace, do the following:
1. Train your supervisors in ways to prevent it and also how to react to it if it occurs.
2. Educate your employees on acceptable workplace behavior and how to respond to trouble if it should happen.
3. Set up a reporting process so that if someone sees a problem unfolding, they know how to report and get help.
4. Update your polices on workplace behavior, violence, bullying, and weapons in the workplace.
Violence in the workplace is becoming an all too often occurrence. Several times a year I get calls from clients on my HR HelpLine seeking advice on how to respond. The situations are frightening and disruptive to workers and the after-effects linger. Take action today to protect your employees and prevent incidents.
For additional information or assistance, contact me at email@example.com or 207-229-5954. To learn about our HR HelpLine service, click HR HelpLine.
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