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What to do when tempers flare

September 26, 2013

Let’s say a manager and an employee lose their tempers. The manager fires the employee. The company president asks: “How should we handle situations like this in the future?” For the answer, continue reading.

Question: One of my managers recently fired an employee for refusing to follow the manager’s instruction. The firing took place during a flare-up of tempers. I’m the company president. I know it is probably too late to help this situation, but I would like to know how to handle something like this in the future so that we don’t get sued?

Answer: You are “on target” with three important points in your question.

  1. You realize that this incident has potential for serious repercussions.
  2. You understand there is little you can do at this point to salvage the situation. 
  3. You realize the risks of a lawsuit and want to do something to protect your business in the future.

What can you do to help your current situation? Find out if other employees witnessed the firing or witnessed any of the events before the firing. Gather signed statements from those who saw or heard the incident, and do this as soon as possible.

It’s not uncommon for a single disturbing event to cause the lid to blow. Such an event could be an unauthorized departure from work, a hitch in production because orders were not followed or a snappy response in a pressure situation.

But when these kinds of upsetting things happen, your managers and supervisors need direction in what to do and what not to do. This direction must come from management. It should be understandable and specific.

Why? Because the company is liable for the words and actions of the management and supervisory staff as they perform the duties of their jobs.

Recommendations: Here are suggestions you can implement to minimize risks of a lawsuit:

  • Consider an employee’s natural people skills before promoting an employee into a management position. If a dependable, long-term employee is a hothead, you may want to reconsider a promotion to supervisor or management.
  • Consider incorporating “suspension” into your disciplinary procedure. A one or two day suspension in a situation like you describe allows both parties to cool off and discuss the problem rationally. 
  • Hold training sessions for your management and supervisory staff to instruct them in how to deal with employees. Be sure your managers and supervisors understand successful strategies in dealing with employees.
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