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Know Your Legal Rights

Lindsey Novak on

Q: Our small company is high-workload environment. Everyone is under stress, but some handle it better than others. A co-worker went ballistic on me, throwing a stapler that missed me and hit the wall so hard, it left a gash. This violent outburst combined with the normal stress level at work has scared me and affected my ability to eat, sleep and focus on my job. My doctor referred me to a psychologist who I have been seeing regularly. I took a short leave of absence but don't feel secure enough to return. My boss told me the situation would not change. What can I do?

A: Many workplaces have stressful environments, but violent behavior and the potential of further violence at work is unacceptable. Your boss' comment shows poor leadership ability and a serious lack of knowledge required for a management position.

Here's what you must do after such an event: Verbally notify your boss and the human resource department immediately after the incident; follow it up with a written report describing all the details. Also furnish your doctor's report to the HR department. Having to continue working with a person you know to have violent emotional outbursts would affect most people.

HR should have handled the situation once it heard the facts, which would include HR interviewing both you and your co-worker and informing your boss of the potential liability. A resulting gash in the wall from your co-worker hurling any type of hard object at you is enough reason for firing that employee or at the least bringing in a psychologist through the HR department to work with him or her. Keeping any employee who has displayed uncontrollable anger is a serious liability for the company, and that alone shows terribly poor judgment by upper management. The stapler missed you, but it might not have.

Violence at work opens the company to lawsuits, so it's interesting your boss said things would not change. His/her lack of knowledge of the ramifications of workplace violence is shocking. If you only verbally expressed your dismay without filing a report to the human resource department, you need to now. You should probably take a photo of the gash in the wall as a result of the employee's outburst. Your fear of returning to work sounds like it directly relates to no action being taken against your co-worker. If HR and upper management do nothing, the company may need a lawsuit as a wake-up call to its legal responsibilities in providing a safe workplace.

 

If this is the case, find an employment lawyer to handle the situation. But it's important for you to stay honest and ethical and not manufacture drama. Some people think lawsuits are a ticket to riches, which is a different type of unacceptable behavior. Some small companies operate like families and forget it is a business that must follow laws and regulations. Some small companies even fail to have formal employee handbooks because the owners think it's a good way to save money. With the many startups being created with tight budgets, it's easy to understand how many of the legalities and helpful documents are overlooked.

If you decide the stress at this company is not worth the job you have and the money you make, your best action plan may be to start a job search. Keep in mind that if you interview with very small companies, ask about the written policies and procedures in place and don't be taken in by bravado mission statements. Also be aware that small companies (generally under 15 employees) do not fall under the federal law of Title VII that protects employees many rights. "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It also provides for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages in cases of intentional violations of Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Title VII generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. State laws can add on to federal labor laws, and some states have their own agencies to protect employees, but no state can ignore federal laws. Know the facts so you can accept a job with eyes wide open.

Email your workplace questions to Life and Career Coach LindseyNovak@yahoo.com. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak COPYRIGHT 2017 CREATORS.COM

 

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