What should happen if a physical altercation in the workplace ends with one employee securing a restraining order against the other? Can you fire the apparent instigator for breaking workplace rules against fighting? Will that expose you to liability?
Probably not—if the fired employee had a chance to present evidence during the hearing on the restraining order.
Recent case: David allegedly pushed Lori while the two were working in the laundry facility at a Minnesota correctional institute. Lori reported the incident to police and then, without David’s participation, got a harassment restraining order against him. David demanded a full hearing and had a chance to present testimony and evidence. The court heard evidence and issued a final restraining order. The employer terminated David.
Later, David sued, alleging that his former employer hadn’t done enough to verify he had indeed pushed Lori. David insisted that there was video that would prove he was innocent and wanted the court to review that video.
It refused, noting that David could have introduced the video at the harassment restraining order hearing. He therefore was not allowed to re-litigate what had happened. The employer could rely on the previous judicial finding. (Pemrick v. Bucher, No. A16-0850, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2017)
Final note: Courts are reluctant to second-guess employer decisions, especially when it appears the employee being disciplined had a fair shot at presenting his or her side of the story.