Should We Fire Over Threat To Supervisor

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being sent home: I have spoke to the supervisor and 2 other witnesses who saw the altercation when the supervisor asked the employee to clock out and leave.

I had a situation yesterday where a supervisor had sent one of her employees home because he was responding to her in a volatile way and used curse words. He called her on her personal cell phone that night cursing at her and threatened to kill her. There is not proof of this threat other than the phone records showing his number called her. Now she is afraid for her life and has made a police report. She will not return to work as long as he is here. What are my options as HR to terminate the person who made the threat? I have spoke to the supervisor and 2 other witnesses who saw the altercation when the supervisor asked the employee to clock out and leave. I have written statements from them and the supervisor. Help!

Signed, Needing An Answer

Dear Needing An Answer:

You may already have taken action about this matter, but perhaps this will be helpful: One thing that helps is to stop for a second and see what you have and where you need to be. You had an angry work situation (apparently no overt threats were made there). You also have a supervisor who is afraid to come to work and an employee who she says threatened to kill her. You know the employee called her at home, because you have the phone record. Emotions are high right now. Consider a suspension for the employee until you can investigate it completely–not just in the heat of the moment. It DOES sound as though the employee should be terminated. And remember, unless there is a union issue, in most cases an employee can be terminated based solely on such things as discourtesy, showing extreme anger at work and similar actions. You are not charging anyone with a crime or firing for no reason at all, you are saying that what the employee did was so upsetting that you don’t think it is in the best business interest of the company to put him back in the workplace.

It is the business interest of the company that is the valid reason to fire, not personal feelings or accusations. So, you’d almost always be OK with that. However, in this case, what would it hurt to suspend the employee, with or without pay, for a few days while everything is sorted out and paperwork is prepared. You may have the police report by that time, which you could attach as well. You could also get a statement from the supervisor about exactly what was said. Have her write it word for word, not write what she thinks he meant. Tell her to quote him as exactly as possible, and in the quotation she can put in parenthesis the tone of voice being used, if that adds to her claim. For example, (His voice was very loud and blaring in my ears) “Don’t ever try to screw with me again!” That gives you a better idea of what was said and how it was said. In the meantime, the supervisor could return to work because the employee wouldn’t be there.

However, that supervisor and everyone else at work should be on the alert for the suspended employee and the police should be called if the employee attempts to return to work or contact people on business property. If, no matter what the employee says now, your managers do not want him back, your decision is made for you. If they think there is a chance for some sort of apology, combined with discipline, then they will have to decide what to do about the supervisor’s concerns. In your position, you are an adviser. It would seem that good advice is to not feel obligated to fire someone right now, when you could keep them out of the workplace until at least a brief investigation could be done. Of course, your company could fire the employee based solely on what has happened. But, if there is a chance that you don’t know exactly what happened, it will be worthwhile to find out. Best wishes. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. We are not always by the computer to respond immediately, but are always interested.

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.