“I experienced workplace violence, left early, and was suspended for it. Were my rights violated?”

Question: I was assaulted at work by another employee. I went directly to the General Manager and told him what was happening. Then I went to my direct Supervisor to let him know that I was leaving early (there were two hours remaining in the workday) because I was shaking, and to defuse the situation.

As soon as I got home, I contacted the police, and filed a police report.

I ended up being suspended without pay for the following workday because they said I left my job. The other person involved wasn’t sent home that day, and wasn’t suspended like I was. My managers have told me that they don’t want me to involve Human Resources, but I insisted.

Now I am waiting for a meeting with Human Resources, but I feel my Civil Rights were violated because I did nothing wrong but leave to defuse the situation. What are my rights?  

         Cliff 
         Surprise, Arizona

Answer: Cliff, from what you have written, it is hard to believe you would be suspended without pay.

The only reason I can think of for your being suspended is that, although you wrote that you told the General Manager and your direct Supervisor you were leaving, you did not write that they had granted you their permission for you to do so. In fact, from what you have written, it sounds like the General Manager and your direct Supervisor did not, in fact, grant you permission to go home. That can be a very serious offense at work, no matter what the circumstances.

I am not saying what you did was not right under the circumstances. In fact, I think I might have done exactly the same thing you did, if I were in “your shoes.” However, “managers” must “manage” people. When “managing” people and groups of people, the number one issue, above all others, is “control.” I don’t mean this in a negative sense, but in a practical sense. Managers are responsible for maintaining “control” of the workplace, for several different reasons, often ones you and I might not think of.

 Perhaps the General Manager and your direct Supervisor had to, by company policy, immediately debrief you to find out exactly what happened to cause the incident, but you had already left the office. That could cause a problem.

 Perhaps the General Manager and your direct Supervisor had to, by state law, have you sign a statement prepared by them at the time of the incident, but you had already gone home. That could cause a problem.

 Perhaps the General Manager and your direct Supervisor had to, due to insurance requirements, ask whether you had seen any weapons, but you had already left work. That could cause a problem. 

 Perhaps the General Manager and your direct Supervisor had to, because of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) regulations, have a person of your gender examine you for any signs of physical injuries, but you had already left the premises. That could cause a problem.

 It’s just possible your assailant was not sent home, or suspended, because the General Manager and your direct Supervisor did not have a written, signed report from you, because you had already left work. Because you were no longer at your work premises, it is possible your violent assailant could not be fired, and therefore continues to pose a danger to others. That could be a real problem. 

I’m sure, by now, you get my point: managers have things to worry about that you might not be aware of, and being an employee means agreeing to “let managers manage.”  It’s Rule #1, or close to it. 

You were smart to file a police report. You were smart to bring the matter to Human Resources; I hope you described the incident to Human Resources by way of email, because that would make a great permanent record. But leaving the workplace premises without prior permission – unless you really believed you were in real danger of imminent bodily harm, or critically needed to see a doctor – was not the best thing to do. You have many rights in the workplace, but they all depend first on your fulfilling your responsibilities to your employer, and it managers. And “letting managers manage” is one of them.

If you have an injury, you have a right under Arizona law to file a Workers’ Compensation claim for any medical costs and any lost income. You might even have a right to sue your assailant for any injuries. But your “rights” against your employer are slim to none, if you did not first observe that important “rule”: “Let managers manage.” If what happened to you happens again, consider staying put, insist on calling the police from your workplace, insist on being protected. But don’t leave without permission.

This may not be exactly what you wanted, or expected, to read. Nonetheless, I do hope it is valuable, helpful, and something you will keep in mind.

Thanks for writing in!! Hope you’ll tell others about our Blog.

           Best, Al Sklover

©  2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.