‘Self-defense’ is no excuse for ignoring anti-violence rules

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in Firing,Human Resources

Issue: Employees may try to use "self-defense" as a reason for breaking your no-fighting rule.

Risk: That would limit your ability to punish violent workers.

Action: Don't be afraid to discipline all participants in employee altercations.

"No fighting" means no fighting. So don't let employees try to wriggle off the discipline hook by saying they were simply defending themselves.

Include in your policies a clearly worded ban on physical and verbal abuse in the workplace, even if it's in self-defense. Provide descriptions of acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

Recent case: A fellow employee attacked Hector Escalante at work without provocation. Rather than fleeing, Escalante defended himself by fighting back. His employer fired Escalante for failing to back away. He sued, claiming wrongful termination, saying he was fired for exercising his constitutionally and statutorily guaranteed right of self-defense.

A California appeals court sided with the company, saying it saw no problems with the employer's requirement that employees avoid physical conflict whenever possible. (Escalante v. Wilson's Art Studio, Inc., No. 109 Cal. App. 4th 692, 2003)

Final note: When violence does occur, don't jump to discipline right away. Before acting, thoroughly investigate any complaints or incidents. Use disciplinary suspensions when necessary to give you time to probe.

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