Supervisor attacked by an employee on a worksite

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being physically attacked:

I’m a super at a job site in Las Vegas and two days ago an employee in my crew jumped off his equipment and started beating me, saying I crossed the line. What line that is I have no idea. As he beat me, he yelled, “Get up so I can do you again”, then lifted me up like a wet rag. The owner showed up on site and told me to go home for the weekend and said he would be firing the employee. But I have learned that that hasn’t happened. Where do I go from here? I can’t go back to work always looking over my shoulder and worried about giving directions that this might happen again.

Signed, Worried at work

Dear Worried at work:

If you received a reply to this already, forgive me. We’re in the middle of site changes, and I may have made an error in entering the message. There are several approaches for you to consider about this situation:

1. It seems you have grounds for a criminal complaint of assault. This is especially true if you have witnesses who will support you and physical evidence. You may not want to do that if you will still be working with the person or if you don’t feel it will happen again–or if it is very unusual for this employee. If you think it has happened before in other settings, you may be doing everyone, including the employee, a favor by getting the law involved.

2. Your managers are responsible now for ensuring that you are safe since they are aware of the potential for violence that is present. Tell them your concerns and ask for their thoughts about how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Point out that someone, who would attack you in that way, could harm others as well.

3. Rarely does someone attack without a reason in his/her own mind. Is there a chance you made a personal comment or made remarks about race, ethnicity, his family or some other thing that might be considered demeaning or insulting? Sometimes supervisors, especially in tough work environments, think no one minds tough talk or even rudeness. But everyone works better when they are treated with respect. Evaluate your behavior with that employee and others to make sure you are not using a style that is offensive and that builds up overtime to the point that someone thinks they have a reason to explode.If you are not doing anything like that, it may indicate this employee has mental problems. In that case, you would want to ensure you and others are safe from further violence. You may have to make a strong case to your managers about the potential for deadly violence if this escalates. If there are employees you deal well with, ask them if there are times when your supervisory style or methods might be a problem. Don’t try to align them with you against the other employee, just ask for their helpful input. Be willing to adapt or change.As supervisor, you have a job to do, and that job will involve giving this person directions. Ask your managers if they have ideas for how to make that happen without risking serious conflict. If they won’t dismiss the employee and you don’t want to quit, you will have to find some ways to keep the situation calm. You may want to talk directly to the employee and ask him what went wrong. Apologize for unintended insults and explain anything that needs to be explained. Don’t try to pretend you want to be his buddy again, if that was never the case anyway. Just keep your focus on all of you doing the job and being able to go home without problems.

Call at your first opportunity to find out what your managers have planned and work with them to put things back to normal. Everyone will be a little edgy, so try to show support for them and have a positive friendly attitude. Don’t discuss this except to say it was a bad situation, but it’s over now and work needs to get done.Best wishes to you! Tina Rowe

William Gorden