punishment for fighting?

I was informed this morning by a manager that there was a physical altercation between 2 employees during a weekend work shift (warehouse). Apparently a disagreement led to a shoving match and a few other employees had to step in. According to the manager, the altercation was brief, the situation cooled down and the two employees worked the rest of the shift (a few hours) without incident. (Note: This manager isn't a warehouse supervisor; he was managing the store during the same shift.)

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While on the one hand no “harm” came out of the incident, I’m wondering what my next steps should be. Both employees are scheduled to work together again tomorrow. I plan on speaking to each of them before I allow them to work together again, not only to find out what caused the altercation, but to communicate that fighting in any form is not acceptable. Should I do more than that?  (Their actual supervisor in the warehouse is currently on a leave of absence, so it really falls on me to decide what should be done).


I confess I feel a bit conflicted because one of the employees has been with us for 4 years and is well-liked by everyone (myself included). He's basically the last person you'd envision picking a fight with anyone. The other employee, who I suspect was the instigator, has only been with us about a month.


Even though our employee handbook says that fighting in the workplace can be grounds for termination, it wouldn’t feel right to harshly discipline the long-term employee. And, of course, I wouldn’t dole out different punishments for the same offense (since both of them shoved each other) to the other employee. But if the new employee is a troublemaker, I’d at least like to issue a written warning/documentation of the incident in case it happens again (so that we can justify terminating him if need be) even if no harm ultimately came out of this incident. Any thoughts from those of you who've dealt with similar situations?


  • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • First, I think you need to investigate what happened. I would have both parties write down exactly what happened as well as any witnesses.  Figuring out what caused the altercation is going to help you and the manager try to make sure this doesn't happen again.  Maybe you find out during the investigation that something major is the cause of the incident and then you may have to take severe disciplinary action (maybe even termination).  At the very least I think both need to have this documented in their files.  But until you know the details and the reason behind this it is hard to say what the consequences are going to be.  Remember if you don't do anything then it just tells the other employees that fighting is allowed.  The manager (and you if you want) need to communicate to everyone that fighing is not allowed and won't be tolerated. 


  • I totally agree with IT HR.  You need to sit both of these people down and listen to what they have to say.  If you let this drop without doing anything, the rest of the employees are going to think that fighting in this workplace is really "OK".  If you decide not to terminate either or both party(ies), I think you should document this altercation in their file and let them know that you are doing it. 
  • I agree, too. An investigation is definitely in order here. This is especially true if you decide to discipline one employee and not the other, although I can understand your tendency to give the long-term employee the benefit of the doubt. But something needs to be done so that your other employees don't come to believe that this type of behavior is acceptable.
  • Does the company  have a pattern for dealing with this type thing? You duty bound to handle it the same way altrications have been handled in the past. If no past incident, remember you are setting the standard. Try to remain open minded, we had a situation similar. And the reality was the vetran was the instigator, and regardless investigate. You need to remember your weight of follow through on policies is being watched by all. What you do do fairly. Two of the places I've been at both would be terminated having touched each other. The other is a two and out policy. What ever you decide you have to know you can live with.
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