Will I Be Fired For a Workplace Altercation?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker heated argument:

I am a nurse and had verbal altercation with another nurse in the basement of a clinic (No patients was around). The argument started over me informing the nurse about patient abandonment. She become irate and followed me down to the basement and got in my face swearing at me. We both used coarse language and another co-worker tried to diffuse that situation, which led to that co-worker pushing the offender back from attempting to lunge at me. There were name calling and threats made. Will I loose my job?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

This sounds very unpleasant and I can imagine you’re very worried about what will happen next. What your managers decide to do about it is up to them. Probably they will consider the totality of the situation, as well as if you or the other person have had similar problems in the past. Hopefully they will want to know what was really happening with the patient you apparently were concerned about. If this was reported to your managers and you are already set up to meet about it, you may just have to wait for the organizational process to work out.

If it hasn’t come to that point yet, you should take the first step and seek out a supervisor right away the next time you go back to work and explain what happened. Use that as a time to say that you didn’t mean for things to get to that point. You could add that you will talk to a supervisor about workplace concerns in the future, instead of confronting an employee who obviously resented the correction from a peer. That will also be a time to ask your supervisor what can be done about the obvious conflict that exists. I would bet this isn’t the first time there have been heated words and anger. With that degree of dislike, you and others may become distracted about work and that is certainly a problem. You mention threats as well, but you don’t state what the nature of those threats were.

If they were threats to cause bodily harm, those may be considered as a firing offense, since nowadays there is usually a zero-tolerance policy about such comments. If they were just free-floating and general, “You’ll be sorry”, the person who said it may be reprimanded or just warned. Clearly the profession of nursing wasn’t very well represented in the actions of you and your coworker, no matter who started it. The third coworker should have called for assistance from a supervisor, since it sounds as though things were very much out of control.

The shoving that went on may also be considered a firing offense, according to how it happened and what degree of force was used. I don’t have any way of knowing how your managers will feel about all of this, but I’m sure you and the other employee will have to explain your actions and perhaps both of you will receive a disciplinary action of some kind.

Best wishes to you with this. I’m hoping that your prior performance and behavior has been so good that everyone will know you are not likely to start a problem. Use this as a time to stick to your own work, improve in every area you can, and let supervisors and managers see how much more effective you are than others, especially about how you handle a conflict and what you do if you think a patient is not being treated correctly by a fellow nurse. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.