Workplace violence: Forklift operator pushes supervisor

by on February 2, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Supervisor Jim Barr had just stepped inside his office door when he realized Akili Delvecchio had followed him in.

“Just get back to work, Akili,” said Jim. “I shouldn’t have sworn while reprimanding you a few minutes ago. I already apologized to you right there in front of your co-workers. There’s not a lot more to say.”

“I don’t care if you apologized or not,” said Akili, moving closer. “You can’t talk to me that way.”

“Settle down,” said Jim. “Just fix the safety issues on your forklift. If you’d done that the first time we discussed it, we wouldn’t have had any trouble.”

“We’re done discussing anything,” said Akili. He pushed Jim against a wall and tried to hold him there.

But Jim pushed back and punched Akili in the face. Akili smiled slightly and said, “Dude, you can’t hit an employee – you just got yourself fired.”

Doesn’t return to work
Akili filed a complaint with the company. The next morning, he called and was surprised when Jim answered the phone.

“You’re not fired?” asked Akili.

“I’m not getting fired,” said Jim. “I defended myself against your attack. The company’s not happy, but has agreed not to fire either one of us. So we’ll see you at the usual time?”

“Uh, I’m going to the doctor today,” said Akili. “I’ve got a migraine.”

Akili called in sick for two weeks, then was fired for insubordination for not returning to work. Akili sued, saying he was fired in retaliation for complaining about a supervisor who assaulted him.

The company won, but only on the fourth try. A state appeals court said a worker isn’t protected against retaliation when he created the safety hazard (a fight, in this case) that he complained about.

Bottom line: You can hit back, if you have the stomach for four levels of courts scrutinizing your every move.

Better: Don’t escalate confrontations. If you get too hot under the collar and say something you shouldn’t, apologize and walk away to cool down. But if you walk away, don’t get caught alone with a worker you’re having a tough time with.

If workers refuse to fix safety problems, be prepared to use progressive discipline. Suspend them for the day, if that’s what it takes to restore calm.

Cite: Dept. of Labor v. Si-Nor, Inc., No. 27497, Hawaii App.

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