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Take hard line on workplace violence threats

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in Management Training,Preventing Workplace Violence

Some employees think nothing of threatening their co-workers. Most employers disagree and aggressively move to stop such harassment.

Courts are on the employers’ side: They’ll seldom second-guess a decision to fire the culprit.

Recent case: Leonia Allen worked for FedEx as a dispatcher and didn’t get along with a particular male co-worker. She often used HR’s “open door” policy to lodge complaints against the co-worker, claiming management treated her worse than the man.

Allen became increasingly frustrated when the company didn’t see things her way. One day, she got so angry that she placed her hand in the shape of a pistol and said, “I swear to God, if I had a gun….” Another co-worker asked Allen what she meant. Allen added, “No joke, I am going to get my permit this weekend. You better wear a padded vest, and that’s a warning.”

The woman who heard Allen reported the threat to her manager. Allen was fired for violating the company’s anti-violence policy.

She sued, alleging that she never made the comment. But the company said that it believed the co-worker’s account.

The court said the employer was free to believe the co-worker, and it would not interfere with the company’s decision to fire Allen. The bottom line, concluded the court, was that employers can choose to believe one account over another. It wouldn’t matter if it turned out the employer was wrong, as long as it genuinely believed what the co-worker said. (Allen v. Federal Express Corporation, No. 1:09-CV-17, MD NC, 2011)

Final note: Allen also tried to compare herself to someone who poked her with his finger and argued her punishment should have been the same as his. That employee got a written warning. But the court said the incidents weren’t even remotely equivalent.

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