Should an Employee Punching Another Employee Always Get Fired?

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What would it take to get you to punch an employee?

For most HR Pros, the answer might be “Not much!” if they were joking behind the locked doors of their HR department!

This issue came up close and personal recently when a college basketball player from Oklahoma State University, Marcus Smart, fell into the crowd during the game and forcibly shoved a fan that made a comment to him that caused him to react.

When employees say horrible things

It’s the first time anyone can really remember a NCAA athlete leaving the field of play and purposely making contact with a fan in a manner that wasn’t positive. It happened years ago in the NBA with the now infamous, “Malice at the Palace,” where a fight broke out between professional basketball players and fans that got completely out of control.

I’m not here to say Marcus Smart was wrong or right. If the guy said what Marcus said he said, I think the kid should have done more than just shove, and I applaud his restraint. If the guy didn’t say what it is thought he said, but some other dumb thing, well Smart wasn’t living up to his name.

Either way, Marcus understands that leaving the court of play to shove a fan is wrong, and has said so. Being in HR, we know that at well. There is nothing any employee could say to me that would get me to physically assault them.

OK, that’s lie! There are all kinds of things that might happen at work that could justify an employee punching or shoving another employee!

I’ve witnessed employees saying the most outrageous, cruel things to each other. What usually happens?

Well, one or both get fired. It’s pretty easy from the HR side of things. We can’t have this in our workplace, it’s zero tolerance, you’re gone.

Sometimes, they shouldn’t lose their job

It’s the easiest termination in the HR game. In 20 years I’ve never even had anyone come back and try to fight it. You punch an employee – you get fired. Period.

I actually don’t agree with this, but it’s what happens in HR. I think there are times that an employee is completely justified in hitting another employee –and the one who got hit should lose their job!

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I had a former employee tell another employee, who was a father and recently had his son die, that “he deserved” to have his son die. That’s beyond cruel. The guy saying it deserved to get hit, and the father deserved to react.

Legal made me fire him. I fought it as far as I could and almost lost my job.

There are times in the workplace that an employee should get punched — just like there are times in an athletic event where a fan should get hit. There are no absolutes in HR or life.

What would it take to get you to punch one of your co-workers?

Check out this video. Even though it’s parents and a school principal, it totally reminds of how employees act when they are in the HR office. Enjoy.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


7 Comments on “Should an Employee Punching Another Employee Always Get Fired?

  1. Too true! That said, as a career blogger, I’ve also heard some pretty terrific tales of punching in the workplace. Case in point, one of our guest bloggers told me about a pair of brothers who came back drunk from the office Christmas party, and tried to resume their work in the phone sales department. After being asked to go home for the day, they started swinging; they shoved their supervisor into a table, and outright clocked a co-worker. At any rate, they came in the following day and refused to believe they’d both been fired. There may be grey areas when it comes to such HR dilemmas, but I don’t think this was one of them.
    Cheers! Lisa Chatroop, Good.Co

  2. A very interesting point of view. I am a big believer in every situation being evaluated based on the specific circumstances unique it the situation which a thorough and effective investigation should identify. However, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that ‘some employees deserve to get punched.’ I don’t believe any circumstance warrants taking matters into your own hands to deliver your individual form of seeking perceived justice. The only exception to this is when someone is defending themselves from imminent harm. To allow employees to punch others base on their judgement of justification is very slippery slope that would not be pretty and likely end in lots of legal liabilities and even possibly significant violence.

    Let’s keep the workplace ‘punch free.’

  3. Nope – sticks and stones, etc. Nothing offends me enough to punch someone at work. As an HR person, I do believe we have to look at every situation with its own facts and make a call. I’ve never NOT fired someone who hit someone else…but some I’ve brought back. So – no, I can’t think of a case where I wouldn’t fire someone who clocked another employee, but there are cases where I’ve actually reinstated them (after a sufficiently-long cooling off period that I thought they’d learned their lesson). I thought it was the right call for the company and all involved. Company agreed. Maybe I’m wrong?? Love to hear other views.

  4. Definitely fire the employee if the act was committed in the work place. The work place is a professional setting. Outside of the work place, then that is for law enforcement to deal with if charges are to be brought up.

  5. I really dislike the idea of indiscriminate punishment. Every situation is unique, and I think we need to be very diligent in how we respond. If, for example, two employees clearly don’t get along, and one accidentally knocks into another with his shoulder, do we fire him because the one he struck thinks it’s intentional? Obviously a punch is more cut and dried, but both can equally be construed as assault, so where do you draw the line? If we aren’t willing to investigate each circumstance, but simply fire the one who threw the punch, I think we can inadvertently create a very negative environment. Which employee should we fire – the one who has some anger issues, or the one who intentionally pushes buttons until the other guys snaps? I know which one I would choose…

  6. You don’t punch people at work. You don’t use foul language at work. You should remain professional and courteous. If they are truly terrible people, hire someone on craigslist to defile their car and punch them repeatedly in a dark alley for $50.

  7. I dont agree. I (a male) was slapped in the face at work by a female coworker, honest to God, on my mother’s grave, she thought it would be funny and I gave her no reason to hit me. She received a verbal warning for it, but had the roles been reversed and a Male struck a woman in the face, no questions asked, I’d be terminated before I even got to give my side. Just another example of why, no matter what the reason, you should be fired for assault.

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