Co-worker Threatened To Kill Me

Question:

I’m writing because I don’t know what else to do. The situation is that I am a waitress and front of house manager at a large chain restaurant. For the past year I have had problems with a cook who is very confrontational and likes to yell. This wasn’t a big deal at first because I would just ignore it to him and tell the proprietor of the restaurant.

Well, my co-worker’s verbal attacks have continued to escalate. His problems are not just with me because he likes to start things with many people. However, the other day I asked him to recook a dinner for a table where the food was overdone. He told me to get the f… out of his window and proceeded to call me a c… and b…. among other things. I then told the kitchen manager that he needed to leave or I needed to because I wasn’t going to deal with this kind of screaming all day when we were busy. So they told him to take the rest of the day off because it was almost time to leave anyway.

He then began running around the kitchen, screaming “Where is she?” :I’m going to kill that b….!” He literally was screaming, and when I locked myself in the office, continued to pound on the door. I told the proprietor that I am truly afraid to work with this man anymore and he told me that he would like to fire him but he doesn’t have anyone to replace him.

I don’t feel I should have to work in this type of environment. I have literally changed my house locks and refuse to walk to my car alone, etc.

Is there any legal action I can take? I am truly becoming an emotional wreck and am afraid to go to work. I have been there for 3 1/2 years with no bad marks on my record at all. I just don’t know what to do. Thank you for taking the time to help.

Signed,

Frightened


Answer:

Dear Frightened:

How frightening for you! First, if you have any time available to take off, do so until you know you will be safe. Even if you don’t have time, consider taking off and telling your boss that you are afraid to come to work and will not do so until you get advice about how to handle this matter. Don’t let him or her persuade you that things will be better, unless they can promise they have done something to make a major change at work.

Contact an attorney and ask for legal advice, and for what your options are. Most attorney’s will give you a free consultation. But, I believe you have the grounds for a civil suit if your employer does not immediately take action to protect you from the verbal and physical harassment you have encountered. You may already have grounds for such a suit, based on lack of action. Look for a lawyer who handles harassment cases.

With or without an attorney, you could contact the EEOC. (Listed in the white pages of the phone book, or the blue pages under Federal Government.)That agency may have advice for you as well. They might wish to take a complaint from you and consider it for a federal action, according to how much they think this is gender based and if they think your owner has violated the law by not taking action over a length of time.

Next, unless the attorney advises against it–or if you act without an attorney–contact the highest level in your restaurant chain and tell them you want immediate protection from this person. The owner of the restaurant has badly erred in not protecting you! Explain that you are afraid to go to work and that you are going to be getting legal advice, but in the meantime you do not want to go to work until you know you will be safe. Ask for paid time off while this is being setttled. You may have to be fairly assertive about this, but you can do it! Another option, if you are close to the owner, is to tell him that you either want a guarantee that someone will be present at all times to protect you from both verbal and physical abuse–and that both have to stop immediately and never, ever happen again–or,that the cook will be fired right away, before you come back. Otherwise, you are going to contact the highest level HR person in the company, to complain–right after you get a lawyer to sue the company for the trauma you have had to endure.

You may also be advised by your attorney to get a restraining order. Or, on your own you could call your local City Attorney’s office (listed in the phone book) and ask to talk to someone about what is required to get a restraining order against this person. That doesn’t protect you completely, but it certainly would make the man think before he comes around your house or approaches you–especially if he is fired. Further it would prevent him from bothering you at work if he stays there.

Restraining orders can be different in different jurisdictions, which is why you need to talk to a City Attorney in your community. You might not be able to get such an order, but you might be able to.

When the most threatening event happened, you should have called the police right then and filed a threats complaint. Now it is probably too late for that because time has elapsed. However, the city attorney may tell you that you can still make such a complaint. If you do so, list every possible witness and what they would have heard or seen.

You don’t say whether or not you have been working around him in the last few days, and how things have been. Clearly you want to avoid anything that could cause him to harm you. But you should also make sure that any rudeness on his part is documented in writing, even though you might complain verbally.

In fact, you will need to be doing that anyway. Get a legal pad and write down everything that has happened that has involved that employee using foul language that involved references to gender, or that involved threats. List the things he has done that have frightened you and others. Tell what happened in that most recent situation and how it had an affect on customers. (I can’t believe he wasn’t fired right then, for not wanting to re-do a badly prepared meal!) You should do that right away, so you have a clear timeline in your mind, for when you discuss this matter.

As I said, don’t go back to work until work has been made safe for you. But get an attorney’s advice right away. Make sure he or she is aware of the size of your company and the timeline involved for all of this.

I’m sorry for the upsetting things that have happened, and hope these thoughts will help you develop a plan of action that will result in a safer, better workplace–and the dismissal of a miserable person!

Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results from this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.