How to Handle Employees Fighting in the Workplace
Employee Tempers Flare and Egos Abound
Fight, fight, fight! We have all heard that chant at the schoolyards when two kids are about to engage in some kind of a physical altercation. A crowd gathers as shouts and taunts are hurled at the two who are about to make a spectacle of themselves until the teachers come along to break up the mayhem. Unfortunately, some form of this behavior has been known to follow through to adulthood for some who want to fight at the workplace with co-workers. These "hotheads" will bring their tempers and bullying antics to work to pester and even provoke co-workers into meeting outside to settle some dispute that is causing a disagreement at work. These hostile behaviors become an embarrassment to the organization, employees who participate and to the co-workers who find themselves in the position to witness such childish activity. Fighting between employees at the job site brings on a host of issues that management must deal with immediately. When hostile activity goes unchecked, employees are forced to deal with uncomfortable disruptions that prevent them from getting their work done timely.
A Form of Workplace Violence
Fighting between two employees should be regarded as a form of workplace violence because someone will likely get injured from the altercation. An argument can escalate from a verbal confrontation to an actual exchange of punches at a fairly rapid speed. In some instances, an employee could turn to a weapon to harm the co-worker. When a weapon is involved, it is very likely that an innocent bystander could be hurt in addition to the party fighting with the co-worker. Managers should immediately contact their security staff and call "911" if a fight escalates to such a level.
After the Fight, Investigate
Once the dust has settled, managers must investigate the matter as soon as possible. Some things to remember while you are reviewing the matter are:
- Conduct interviews immediately - In order to get to the bottom of the matter, it will be important to conduct interviews of those who participated in the fight as well as any witnesses to the ordeal as soon as possible. It will be most important to get input from those who personally witnessed the situation. Those whose job may be on the line (the employees who did the fighting) will need an opportunity to defend him/herself for their actions.
- Review policies and procedures - Since there will be disciplinary actions up to and including discharge for those who participated in the fight, managers should review the policies and procedures manual for policy violations. Some policies are very explicit as to what repercussions would be felt by those participate in a fight. There may details in the policy about disciplinary actions to be handed out depending on whether the fight is physical or verbal.
- Pull personnel files and review for past violations of a similar nature - It is a good idea to review the personnel files of those involved in the fight to determine if this fight was the first offense for both participants. If yes, there may be some consideration given to their length of tenure, good work record, performance history, etc.
- Administrative Leave for those directly involved in the fight - In many situations, it is prudent to place the two employees involved in the fight on an Administrative Leave of Absence. By having the employees on an administrative leave, they will be removing them for the worksite to prevent any conflict with those who must participate in an investigation.
- Hold the employees accountable for their actions - Once all testimony of the participants and witnesses has been reviewed, management will want to work with Human Resources to determine whether the employees should be fired, suspended or disciplined accordingly. There should be some expediency for closure of this endeavor to allow employees to move forward from the unfortunate situation.
- Coordinate professional training for co-workers - In order to prevent another fight from occurring in the workplace, management will want co-workers to move forward in a productive way. Employers often take an opportunity after something negative has happened to educate employees on how to make better choices when it comes to getting along with co-workers and how to deal with difficult personalities.
Employees who fight at work must be ready to suffer the consequences of such inappropriate behavior. When both employees lose their jobs, management is left to pick up the pieces and move forward with the rest of the team who witnessed the unfortunate situation. When both parties to the fight are handled appropriately and held accountable for their actions, the rest of the team will be able to move forward from the fight.
Some Closing Thoughts
Fighting that occurs between co-workers at the workplace is unfortunate because it can result in people being injured and/or eventually, losing their jobs. The reasons people fight vary but can be very common when one considers the differences of opinions, backgrounds and personalities that are present in the workplace. Human nature can bring about jealousies over work assignments, promotions, raises and any personnel action that occurs. A difference in personal beliefs and values can bring about a diversified workplace where differences may come up between co-workers. Employers must have policies in place which forbids fighting and any verbal altercations which are hurtful or inappropriate for the workplace. To prevent workplace violence and any form of hostile work environment, management must hold violators accountable. Annual training on the topic of teamwork and dealing with difficult personalities will assist in the prevention of unproductive behavior such as fighting.