Many employers have adopted so-called zero-tolerance rules prohibiting any kind of violence at work. The reason: Getting rid of violent employees is crucial to maintaining a safe work environment.
But be careful how you enforce the rule. If you ever make exceptions, you’re asking for a lawsuit.
Instead, terminate violent employees promptly, as soon as you verify what happened. You don’t need a police report (but get a copy if there is one). Remember, as an employer, your decision should stand as long as it was reasonable.
Recent case: James Lockhart, who is black, worked as a truck driver. He got into a shouting match with his co-driver, and the company separated the two. Then Lockhart had a minor accident while at a truck rest stop. Another company driver saw the incident and started jotting notes.
This apparently angered Lockhart, who told the other driver he found the note-taking so objectionable that he was going to beat him up. The driver responded with racial slurs and Lockhart punched him in the face. Lockhart admitted to his supervisors that he had thrown the first punch, but claimed he was justified. He was fired two hours later.
Lockhart sued, claiming race discrimination.
But the company could show that it had fired everyone who became violent—even a white husband-and-wife driving team who got into a domestic dispute while on the road. The case was dismissed. (Lockhart v. CRST, No. 09-1667, 8th Cir., 2010)
- Not every work problem amounts to discrimination
- Another reason to track everything: Passage of time makes it harder for worker to successfully sue
- Even stupid remark won't sink legitimate discharge case
- In RIFs, Show That Economics (Not Age) Drove Your Decision
- If business is war, think like a general