Can Coworkers Get Fired for Physical Fighting in the Workplace?
The level of intensity for an employee disagreement determines in some ways a manager’s response. However, fighting can be very subjective. While one manager may ignore a disagreement, another manager may decide that the workers should be fired. In at-will employment states such as Pennsylvania, an employer can terminate an employee at any time. Therefore, if two coworkers are verbally or physically fighting, the employer is legally allowed to fire both employees.
Employers and employees can break an employment relationship at any time. But, workplace violence threatens the safety of the entire workplace. Therefore, employers must be mindful of their employees’ words and actions.
Warning Signs of Coworker Fighting
Verbal fighting between two employees can be a very good sign to a possible physical fight. A disagreement may only start verbal but escalate into an exchange of punches. This type of behavior could end up harming other nearby workers.
Also, watch out for threats. Threatening language or behavior can lead to physical fights, which is termed workplace violence. When an employer fails to handle this type of problem appropriately, the employer may end up facing legal action from nearby workers who do not feel safe in their workplace.
Verbal fights and threats should be defused quickly. And it is within the rights of the employer to terminate employees for this type of behavior. But if a hand-to-hand or verbal fight occurs, the employer must conduct an investigation.
6 Steps to Investigate Workplace Violence
Once the immediate problem has been de-escalated, the entire situation must be investigated. Managers along with the HR department must take the right steps to ensure that this type of situation does not occur again. Also, the results of the investigation will help the employer know how to best handle the coworkers who were fighting, if they are still in employment.
Move quickly when investigating. Interviews of employees should happen promptly, but managers should also be refreshing themselves on the company policy. Managers may want to look over company policy before interviews, but don’t wait on the interviews.
1. Review company policies
Some businesses have very clear procedures for how to handle a fight between coworkers, outlining specific discipline based on the type of fight. The company policy should be reviewed so that the employer does not go against its own policy. If injuries occurred, the policy may require a report to be made to higher levels of management.
2. Conduct interviews promptly
Speak with all employees who were present for the fight, bystanders as well as participants. The eye witness accounts will help shed light on what happened. And the workers who were actually fighting will need to have the chance to explain their actions.
- Grab personnel files
- Review information
- Past fights
- Performance history
- Years of good work
3. Assign administrative leave to the participants of the fight
Creating space and time for the investigations in the workplace can make assigning administrative leave to the fighting employees a very wise move. The investigation will be able to occur without additional conflict or threat from the employees who were fighting.
4. Weigh discipline versus liability
When workers participate in a fight, the end result is that the employer must discipline the workers in some way. But the employer must also consider the possible liability in the situation. In most situations, the employer disciplines the worker who threw the first punch the same as the worker who responded in self-defense. Due to the potential liability, employers often see the best mode of operation as termination.
The employer must choose the right response to the worker fight. In some cases, the simplest solution is to fire both employees with no regard for their explanations of the situation. Unionized workplaces create an extra difficulty as well. Of course, company policy may have a system for disciplining workers who fight.
Employers must weigh the liability when employees get into a fight. Sometimes the employee who received the first physical hit might claim battery and require the damages to cover missed work, injuries, etc. Meanwhile, the attacker may deal with criminal charges for physical or sexual battery, depending on the situation. Another possibility is that the employer may face accusations of negligent hiring or retention.
5. Make a final decision on employee discipline
The employer and the human resources department must come to a conclusion in a timely matter for how to handle the worker fight. The discipline must fall within the company policy as well as help to protect the company from liability. Fast response is important so that the event can have closure for employees.
6. Provide training for workers
Employers often choose this time to have training to prevent future incidents from their workers. The training shares best ways to respond to the situation and to keep it from happening in the future. This can be a productive way to finalize closure for the company.
If you’ve been a part of a physical fight in the workplace, you may be able to sue your employer for one of the liability issues listed above. However, your situation must be analyzed by a legal professional who will recognize if you have any legal options.