Violence in the workplace – Best practice response.
At times violence in the workplace occurs and employers must respond in a professional and considered way that protects their employees and the best interest of the employees and the organisation and it’s culture.
An example that I have encountered as a workplace investigator involved two employees who had engaged in a fight in the workplace, a production facility. The Police attended on the night and took statements, neither employee was serious injured and neither required medical treatment beyond an assessment by ambulance officers, neither employee sought further treatment.
The employer called me seeking advice the next day.
1 . This is serious misconduct and the employer has the option to summarily dismiss both employees.
2. Despite the matter being serious misconduct and the employer having the option to summarily dismiss both employees, I recommended provided both employee with procedural fairness involving inviting them both to interviews before making a final decision.
3. Check what action the Police intend to take.
The Production manager contacted the Police who advised that they considered this to be a workplace matter and that the organisation should deal with.
Both employees were contacted via phone and email and advised that the fight would be investigated and that it will be alleged that they had engaged in serious misconduct and breaches of the company Code of Conduct and Respectful Workplace Behaviours policy for fighting in the workplace. Both employees were stood down.
The following day I interviewed both employees. They both admitted fighting and accused the other of starting the fight. Three witnesses were interviewed who all stated that the fight was mutual and that they had both been goading each all all shift, this started with pushing and then moved on to punching.
My finding was that both employees breached the company Code of Conduct and Respectful Workplace Behaviours and had engaged in serious misconduct by fighting in the workplace and as a result there was sufficient evidence to support a disciplinary outcome. Both employees were terminated.
While summarily dismissing an employee for serious misconduct might seem like the obvious option and firing the employee on the spot takes care of the problem immediately, this may involve not provide the employee with procedural fairness, as in the right to know what they are being accused of and more importantly the right to be heard (respond to allegations of wrongdoing).
The employee could lodge an unfair dismissal application and argue that the behaviour did not reach the threshold of serious misconduct, in this case the employer will be at the mercy of the arguments before the Fair Work Commission.
Should the employee be successful in their argument, they might then argue that they were denied procedural fairness and that the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unfair. This could result in reinstatement or compensation.
So take the time, this entire investigation took 1 day, procedural fairness was afforded, the outcome was the same however in this case the employer ensured that they had a valid reason for dismissal and that covered their bases.
AWPTI can provided timely and professional investigations into a complete range of workplace issues, https://awpti.com.au/ call or email to see how we can assist you.
02 9674 4279 or to speak to Phil O’Brien directly, 0409 078 322 or email@example.com
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