An angry employee is not just an employee relations issue

An angry employee may be more than an employee relations issue.
An angry employee may be more than an employee relations issue.

I had a client call the other day looking for advice on what to do with an angry employee. The employee was causing all sorts of havoc with fellow employees, to the point of causing tears. We talked about the situation and I provided some advice on what they might do. The question I wondered about was “What if they had not called?” If the employee became violent where would the company have been then?

Angry employees can be a safety issue

We hear stories all the time about an employee who comes back into the workplace and causes physical harm to fellow employees and managers. What responsibilities does the employer have in this situation? Attorney John W. Hargrove wrote in Employer Liability for the Lone Wolf that these situations should be viewed as safety situations. He says “The first thing employers should have in mind is employee safety and the safety of customers or the public.” He also says that many times there are warning signs, such as the case with my client. An angry employee, a bully, an intimidator, or a withdrawn loner can often be indicators of someone that is prone to violence. The question becomes what can you do with these individuals to keep them from exploding?

What can you do?

Hargrove recommends that you think through such situations before they occur and have a plan in place. You should create a scenario where you work through a plan on what be done when warning signs start appearing. You should think through the possible warning signs and create the steps for dealing with someone exhibiting angry behavior or talking about doing violence. What training needs to be done? What security measures need to be put in place? Hargrove suggests putting in place escape routes. Employees should be trained on what to do with in an “active shooter” situation. He even suggests putting in a “tip line” to allow employees to report situations that make them uncomfortable. HR and management need to have a plan for dealing with angry employees beyond just firing them.

The consequences

The outcomes of not dealing with an angry employee could result in claims from employees that result in OSHA violations, workers’ comp claims, state safety claims and personal claims against the company and supervisors and managers.
The more plans you have in place and the more notice you get on someone’s altered behavior the more likely you may be able to head an incident off and deal with it as an employee relations issue. My client ended up referring the employee to a counselor, where the employee was diagnosed with depression, thus converting their issue to an ADA case. You may be confronted with a similar situation, so be on your guard and deal with these cases very carefully.

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