Workplace violence: Why ‘take it outside’ is dangerous to say

by on September 8, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“I told Ron and that other guy to take their argument outside,” said Supervisor Len Smith.

“Didn’t you see a fight brewing?” asked Safety Director Jason Orr.

“No,” said Len. “Look, the shift just ended, and Ron had done a great job that day. I was happy with his efforts and told him so.” “Then, just as Ron was about to walk out the door, this guy named Mike walked in,” Len continued. “Ron and Mike apparently had some bad blood between them over a woman.”

Thinking words, not fists
“Wasn’t it obvious that a fight was about to start?” asked Jason.

“I didn’t think so,” said Len. “Their voices were raised, and they were starting to get up in each other’s faces, but that’s all.”

“And then you told them to, ‘Take it outside’?” asked Jason.

“Yeah, and they did,” said Len. “With 20-20 hindsight, it wasn’t the right call. But at the time, it just looked like two guys who didn’t like each other much and who would just curse a little.”

Severe injuries
“But in the parking lot, Ron punched Mike so hard that he knocked Mike to the ground,” said Jason. “That broke Mike’s neck and now he’s paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

“There was no way I could see anything like that coming,” said Len. “I’ve never seen anyone get hurt that badly in a fight.”

Mike sued the company for negligence. Did he win?

Yes. A jury awarded $21 million for Mike’s pain, suffering, lifetime loss of wages and medical care.

Two reasons:

  • The supervisor lost sight of his duty to make sure nobody was hurt by an employee on the premises. “Take it outside” isn’t a good enough answer, tempting as it is to say among adults.
    Len should’ve warned both men that he’d call security or the police if the raised voices and chest-thumping continued. And he should not have let a dispute go into the company parking lot unsupervised.
  • The supervisor was influenced by the fact that the employee was off-duty. But the state law here doesn’t distinguish between employers’ responsibilities to supervise on-duty employees, or off-duty employees who remain on premises.

Cite: Foradori v. Captain D’s LLC, No. 06-60030, 5th Cir., 4/1/08.

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