Has an employee been arrested for threatening behavior involving a co-worker? You don’t have to wait for the criminal trial and conviction to discipline the employee. You don’t even have to reconsider if the police drop the charges. What matters is that you have an honest belief that the employee broke company conduct rules—even if you end up being wrong.
Recent case: LaShaunda worked as a custodian for the U.S. Postal Service. She was apparently engaged in a romantic relationship with a co-worker. When that co-worker decided to enter a new business with another romantic interest, LaShaunda apparently became upset. The two began arguing at work and continued their argument into the parking lot and down the road.
According to the police investigation, LaShaunda told the co-worker she was going to tell the other love interest that she was also having an affair with him, physically assaulted the co-worker, spat on his car and then proceed to send threatening text messages suggesting she was going to kill him.
LaShaunda’s supervisor, on learning about the fight and that LaShaunda had been arrested, began the termination process. LaShaunda was then terminated. Eventually, the charges were dropped.
LaShaunda sued, alleging that her co-worker should have been fired, too.
But the court said that the supervisor was free to believe that LaShaunda was the instigator. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t prosecuted or that the co-worker might have played more than the innocent victim. What mattered was that the supervisor honestly believed LaShaunda had violated workplace rules against threats and violence. (McDaniel v. Donahoe, No. 12-CV-054944, ED CA, 2014)
Final note: The workplace isn’t a court of law. You don’t have to have overwhelming proof of who did what to whom. An honest belief is enough.