Know When to Walk Away

“One of my employees got mad and pushed another employee. I believe the one who got pushed was deliberately trying to make the other employee mad. What should I do about this?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Although there is more conversation about violence in the workplace, it doesn’t seem to be stopping it. In fact, we’ve heard about more employees verbally and physically attacking one another than ever before.

There are a few things you can do to prevent this and ways to handle the situation if prevention doesn’t work. The first is recognizing that you, as the business owner or a manager, absolutely must take action. You need to make sure this type of behavior is not condoned or allowed.

There are a variety of possible disciplinary actions you can and should consider, including unpaid suspension, termination, a write-up, anger management classes, harassment classes, probation, etc. How you handle the situation depends greatly on what exactly happened. Make sure you have witnesses write up what they saw and heard.

Here are a few fictional examples and what we might recommend (depending on the details):

  • Sam and John are yelling at each other in front of others — Write them both up for unprofessional behavior and maybe consider a day’s unpaid suspension for the one who started it. Also, find out what caused it and consider how to avoid this in the future.
  • A supervisor gets mad at a direct report and punches him — Termination of the supervisor because, in that position, he now poses too big of a risk to the company. Maybe write up the direct report, depending on what happened before the punch.
  • A lead has told a newer employee to work rather than watch others. Later the employee threatens the lead. — Terminate the employee. This wasn’t a heat-of-the-moment response; he waited and then made the threat.
  • Sam is verbally abusing John and eventually makes John mad enough that he takes a punch at Sam. — Terminate John for violence and write up Sam for potentially harassing behavior. Possibly even put Sam on probation if this is a common behavior for him.

The point is, once emotions start escalating, someone needs to be smart enough to walk away before things get out of hand. Screaming at each other doesn’t solve anything… and rarely even makes them feel better. You just can’t have someone in your workplace that believes a punch is okay.

Once emotions have cooled, then both parties can discuss the problem and find a solution. If the conflict is about work, everyone needs to recognize a solution must be found and work toward that end without hot tempers. If the conflict is due to a personal issue, tell them to resolve it outside of work. Make sure your employees understand what professional behavior looks like and give them ways to resolve any issues calmly. Also make sure they know there will be consequences, and potentially severe consequences, for unprofessional behavior.

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