Employers may suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune from time to time. But when knives fly at work, supervisors better know the relevant company policies.
Consider the case of North Carolina Department of Transportation employee Jerry Rivas. Apparently the workplace prankster, Rivas tossed his pocketknife into the break room one day. The toss was merely horseplay and the knife landed on an empty table. Unfortunately it bounced, careening too close to another employee, who was unhappy enough to complain.
Supervisors immediately dubbed it a violation of the department’s ban on workplace violence, which they believed called for immediate termination. Rivas was fired, and he sued.
A Wake County Superior Court judge decided to get to the bottom of the matter by actually reading the policy. It said Rivas could certainly be disciplined for his action, but it didn’t require termination. The parties can now go to trial or try to reach a settlement.
Note: Even employers that have progressive-discipline systems should leave enough flexibility to let the punishment fit the infraction.
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