General Question

tedibear's avatar

Is screaming at a fellow employee considered workplace violence?

Asked by tedibear (15807 points ) June 23rd, 2011

It has been a long time since I have taken a class in workplace violence and am looking for clarification.

There is an employee who screamed at and berated another employee today. He was heard across the plant by others, which is a distance of about 90 feet. (This was in regard to work, not anything personal.) This is not the first time that he has done this, but no one has ever disciplined him about it. He has some bully tendencies and is the kind of person who believes that he is always right.

Their harassment policy refers to this kind of behavior, so we’re wondering how difficult it would be to terminate him. One concern is that the person he was screaming at this time may not be willing to take it to H.R. However, others heard this incident and the might be willing to speak up.

Any thoughts? Any experience with this? Any legal background about this that you can share?

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39 Answers

Judi's avatar

Document corrective action. Give him a warning, and if your policy allows, fire him the next time he does it. If your policy does not allow it, fix the policy.

Bellatrix's avatar

Yes, it is workplace violence as far as I am concerned. It’s abuse. If the person is being abusive, I don’t see why others can’t go to HR. I don’t have any legal background, but certainly where I work this would not be tolerated. The person needs at least a severe warning so that if it happens in the future, your organisation is one step closer to being able to remove this person. My experience is though, until people speak up, management might be quite happy to turn a blind eye.

mrrich724's avatar

It was definitely violent screaming if you can hear it 90 feet away. And just like any form of harassment, it is harassment if the victim feels harassed.

Also, it is usually in a harassment policy that you should report it if it happens to you OR ANOTHER EMPLOYEE, so someone should definitely report it.

While the company may not agree with immediate termination, it will definitely be in their best interest to keep the two employees involved on different schedules and/or locations to keep them apart!

choreplay's avatar

There are three forms of agression. Physical, verbal and social and they are all wrong. Yes this person needs to be written up or fired.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If the company has an HR department, go discuss this with a representative. If doesn’t matter if you were not the target. The more people that report it, the better. The more times each incident is reported, the more likely the person will be terminated.

marinelife's avatar

Please let HR know. They can talk to the employee. They can compel him to take an anger management course. They could, eventually, let him go.

tedibear's avatar

Sorry I didn’t add this before, but he has 28 years with the company. Does this make it harder to terminate him? Because of his technical knowledge, it would be preferable to turn him into a well-functioning employee but I am of the opinion that it is too late.

Bellatrix's avatar

My questions would be “how many people’s work lives has he made miserable with his abuse?” “Does his expertise excuse his behaviour?”

I am really opposed to workplace bullying. It can make people’s lives hell. People have committed suicide because of the treatment they receive at work. We have a responsibility to control our behaviour and obviously for 28 years people have let this man get away with not controlling his behaviour. Sounds like time someone either got him some help, or let him go.

tedibear's avatar

What to do if he refuses the anger management counseling? Can he be terminated for refusing assistance?

Bellatrix's avatar

Hi Tedi, You would need to check out the Industrial Relations legislation for your area. I would say though, if a person is found to require anger management counselling and they refuse to attend this counselling and they continue to be disruptive or abusive at work, then that would be grounds for dismissal. He is not behaving appropriately at work and is causing other employees distress. There are probably key steps that need to be taken though. Three warnings for instance. The organisation would probably need to demonstrate they have done what they can to find a resolution for this situation other than dismissal. You don’t want to end up with an unfair dismissal situation. Get some advice from someone in your area who is a specialist on workplace legislation.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It may depend upon not only where you live, but what the company policy states. If a company has a zero tolerance policy for harassment, it shouldn’t matter how long the employee has been there. The challenge for HR will be in proving that the incident(s) happened, no matter how many witnesses there were, unless there is physical proof. The job of an HR department is to support employees, but they also have an obligation to protect the company from a potential lawsuit.

As for an anger management class, if the employee refuses to attend, it is highly doubtful that they will be terminated for this, unless it is specified in the company’s policy. Even if this employee attends one, there is no guarantee that it will change their behavior. However, the threat of losing their job might.

snowberry's avatar

I know it also has to do with the company history, but I am no expert on this. I think it’s possible that if they already have allowed this behavior to go on for a number of years, and then suddenly they begin to discipline him, if it goes to court, it can be construed that HE is the one being wrongfully treated. This is especially true if he is terminated.There must be consistency in discipline issues, and lots of documentation historically, and across the board.

Rarebear's avatar

It’s a hostile workplace environment.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

Yes, I think it is. I’d speak to the manager and have the manager talk to him about it.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

The person being screamed at doesn’t need to go to HR necessarily but you and others can citing as @Rarebear mentioned, a hostile environment. Tell your supervisors it’s uncomfortable, gets you on the defensive and is distracting all day after an incident happens because you feel it’s unprofessional, it’s unfair and makes you want to take the guy outside and kick him in the arse. Say you aren’t Underdog but this particular bully gets you hot.

poisonedantidote's avatar

There is no such thing as non-physical violence, everyone argues at work and raises their voice at some point.

Also, if the company has never disciplined him for his past actions, I can’t see justification to fire him. Everyone should get a warning.

Also, how is he benefiting the company, is he making the company a profit? if so then it’s a small price to pay if it helps keep the company in the black, by doing this he is giving everyones job some security. If he is not making the company anything, or maybe making the company a loss, see about getting rid of him for that.

WasCy's avatar

It may be a hostile environment. It may be harassment. It may be bullying. It is certainly inappropriate behavior.

But in no way is it “violence”. Words have actual meanings, and if you have a dictionary that defines “screaming” or “yelling” as “violence”, then your dictionary is wrong. Your policy may need to address that “inappropriate” behavior of many kinds may lead to corrective actions up to and including termination. But yelling is not violent behavior.

blueiiznh's avatar

yes…document the act. I have seen it. It should never be accepted in work or in life.

tedibear's avatar

Thanks to all. I think what would be best is if they put him on some type of warning, because as many have noted, they have let it go on for so long. I still don’t understand why no one has stepped up after all these years. And I think he needs stress and anger management help because that’s when he does this, when he’s under pressure.

@WasCy – I think you’re right that his behavior falls under harassment. And they do speak to inappropriate behavior in their handbook as well.

I really hope that his supervisor and department manager (my husband) start documenting these actions. Somebody needs to get this under control.

mrrich724's avatar

It would be hard to terminate someone after 28 years for some reasons, threatening someone/violence wouldn’t fall into that category.

Even after 28 years, there are still ways you can f it up really quick!

mattbrowne's avatar

No it’s outdated corporate culture. At least in the knowledge industry. The last time I heard someone screaming was in the mid-90s. I wouldn’t work for a company where screaming is tolerated.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Well, I’ve berated a coworker several times. Guy does the same job for over 20 years and still doesn’t know the basics and can never manage to get his work done.

His work inevitably becomes my work because it’s so difficult for the federal government to terminate someone they just shift the work to get it done. He can play the fuck out of a video game though, and he’s always complaining that there’s no overtime.

Damn right I yelled at him and I pray he gets pissed enough to report it so he can explain how he continues to collect a paycheck while I do his work.

Fuck him.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SABOTEUR – With you attitude he probably never will. There are better ways to handle the situation.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@mattbrowne You’re right. How would you handle it?
Bear in mind…you’ve carried his and a co-worker’s workload for 15 years.
I’m all ears.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SABOTEUR – Oh, it needs handling, all right. The behavior is unacceptable. I think we need to separate the person from unacceptable behavior and suggest acceptable alternatives. This is a problem-focused approach instead of a person-focused approach. I would include a qualified third person both of you can accept who acts as a neutral facilitator and set up a meeting in a quiet room. You both explain how you perceive the situation.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Been there…done that.

He…they…continue to show up daily, do the bare minimum to get by, hide or pass on work they don’t want to do and screw up and/or half-ass the minimum work they do eke out. Mostly their works sits until it ages. Then it’s passed on to me to do or correct.

Any other suggestions?

Perhaps your company could hire me to work with you. I can do to you what they’re allowed to do to me. I have another 10 or 15 years to work. More than enough time for you to demonstrate correct behavior as I make your work environment miserable.

Bellatrix's avatar

@Saboteur I would probably try to leave a company that treated me like that. You have to be at work for many hours of your life and I want to at least feel they treat me decently. I could be wrong, it is hard to gauge when we are only working with text, but you sound seriously fed up of this and that can’t be healthy.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@Bellatrix With the economy the way it is, I consider myself fortunate to be working. And working for the Federal Government is a pretty good gig. I’m good at what I do and I like what I’m doing.

The problem with working for the government is the difficulty involved in holding people responsible for their work. There’s so much red tape involved (not to mention Union requirements) that it’s much simpler to get people who will work to work more than to deal with the headaches involved with reassigning or firing people who are incompetent. No amount of training or employee counceling can get people who know they have a secure job to work if they don’t feel like working.

This practice seems to be slowly changing, but in the meantime the responsible employee must carry the load for the employee who shows up just to collect a paycheck.

So as far as the original question is concerned, I believe I’ve maintained my composure pretty damn good for the past 15 years considering being forced to work alongside 2 guys who’ve made a career out of “working the system”. I’ve been written up one time since working there. My two co-workers are f-ing off as usual, but my manages challenges me about what I’ve been doing all morning.

“Faking it.” I reply. “Like everyone else.

They’re the clever ones…they get a free ride while my stupid ass plays “conscientious employee”.

Besides…we work for the American public. It’s your tax dollars that pay for people who are habitually nonproductive.

I’m not the only one who should be screaming.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SABOTEUR – The third person is key. Was it a trained professional coach with experience in conflict resolution?

SABOTEUR's avatar

Please…if they were willing to provide professional conflict resolution, they would have quickly identified the conflict and resolved it long before now.

Management of the federal organization I work for are masters of “crisis management”. That is, they wait until incidents reach crisis proportions and then make a big ta-doo about whatever effort everyone must exert to correct or eliminate the crisis.

At present, there is a huge backlog of cases our organization is fighting to reduce. Our priority is now, and has always been, production. Moving a specific number of cases within a designated time frame to meet or exceed whatever mandate we’re obligated to fulfill. They don’t take have time…or take time…to manage efficiently.

The priority is moving cases.

mattbrowne's avatar

Have you talked to someone from the HR department? Or someone else with influence in your company and who you can trust?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@tedibear If your husband is the supervisor and department manager for this guy’s area, what does he have to say about it?

SABOTEUR's avatar

@mattbrowne

Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes Yes yes

There’s a “process” that must be completed prior to any action being taken.
Every “T” crossed, every “I” dotted to avoid violating the employees rights.

This includes doing a lot of paperwork initiated by the employee’s immediate supervisor.
As the immediate supervisor is usually burdened with the responsibility of moving cases, issues with people who don’t want to work take low priority.

Much easier to shift work to the people who can get it done than to “motivate” or replace people who simply take up space.

Everyone is aware of the problem.
There’s just no efficient way of resolving it.

Which leaves many of us in the unfortunate position of just
“sucking it up”.

Only…

…I don’t always feel like sucking it up.

Especially when I’m working a case you’ve tried to hide for 3 months
while you’re playing a video game

or complaining to upper management that you don’t have any work to do.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SABOTEUR – I accept that sometimes there’ no efficient way of resolving a conflict. Sad but true. Ultimately if senior management doesn’t support you the only way out is to switch jobs. If you want to keep the job and have to live with that jerk, my advice would still be not to resort to screaming. It does more damage to you than to him.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@mattbrowne Correct on all counts, sir. Thanks for the re-minder.

Boogabooga1's avatar

IMO Screaming at a fellow worker is OK.
Its a lot better than some of the other clique twisted subterfuge methods of dealings at work.
Man up and accept the honest yeller for what he is… someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. If everyone had the balls of that person then the staff would be a closer team with more respect for each other = a more effective force and ultimately more $$.

There should be more disciplinary laws regarding the silent shit stirring clique brown nosing that goes on in all of our workplaces, they are Way more damaging than a yeller.

linguaphile's avatar

This is a great web site to help people who feel bullied at work. If nothing else, information is power.

This is a list of what happens to a person who works in a toxic workplace.

I partly agree with @Boogabooga1 that I’d rather be yelled at, but only if the person doesn’t storm away afterwards. From one perspective, being approached, however badly, gives the person an opportunity to respond and maybe lead the conversation into a good discussion. Silent treatments, cutoffs and dishonesty don’t allow for that opportunity.

Boogabooga1's avatar

@linguaphile . your definition is the way I was trying to say it.
Guess a yeller and a thinker can have dialogue.

tedibear's avatar

@Boogabooga1 – Certainly, if this guy was wearing his heart on his sleeve and yelling for the concern of the company, that would be one thing. Certainly not an appropriate means of communication, but at least he cared about his workplace. Unfortunately, he is a bully and tries to intimidate those around him. One of the ways he does this is by screaming. Oh, and he’s also one who tries to “stir the shit” in other more backhanded ways – especially gossip.

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