Have you been bitten in the workplace?
For those of you who have children, we’ve all been there. Whichever playgroup you go to, there will always be one or two children that spoil it for others, whether it’s the tantrum toddler, the toy snatcher, or the bossy boisterous child. But there is one child above all others that no-one will tolerate (even a naughty child’s parents) and that’s the ‘Biter’ – the child whose reputation precedes them, who attracts condemnation wherever they go for sinking their teeth into another perfectly innocent child.
Thankfully, children tend to bite out of frustration and the need for personal space, because they lack the language skills necessary to express themselves and quickly grow out of it. But what happens if they don’t?
You may recall FIFA has initiating disciplinary proceedings against Luis Suarez, following Uruguay’s match against Italy, where it is alleged that Suarez bit his opponent. Unbelievable? Yes! However Suarez, a 27 year old man (yes, 27 years old!) has a history of biting and has been disciplined twice previously for this in the last few years.
Although no action was taken by the Referee during the match, FIFA banned Suarez for 9 matches and from watching his own country’s games. Despite Suarez’ appeal for being excessive, this seems like a relatively mild sanction does it not? If you were deliberately bitten by a fully grown man in the street, it would be classed as physical assault and could attract a custodial sentence.
Although it will always be a bit of a grey area, it’s arguable that footballers are employees of the club they are contracted to, however you rarely hear of a footballer being dismissed for gross misconduct. Think how you would feel if you were sat in a meeting at work and had a minor disagreement with someone who promptly leant over and bit you and the only action taken against them was a relatively short period of suspension.
So how should violent employees be dealt with? In my experience, it’s more common than you may think. I have only just concluded defending an Employment Tribunal claim on behalf of a Company who dismissed an employee for a verbal confrontation and then walking round wielding an iron bar to avoid being approached by his Supervisor and asked to do any work.
I would suggest the following guidance may assist in such certain circumstances:
- You should operate a zero tolerance policy to violence.
- Be mindful that violence may not always be physical. It may include verbal abuse and threatening behaviour.
- Ensure that violent, aggressive or intimidating behaviour is identified as an example of gross misconduct in any disciplinary policy. You cannot tot up a number of instances of violent behaviour to warrant gross misconduct.
- You should ensure you have the contractual right to suspend an employee thereby removing them from the workplace and minimising the immediate risk of a further altercation.
- Be proactive in dealing with current employee disputes or confrontations before they escalate into violent altercations.
- If you have CCTV in the workplace, ensure your employees are aware of this and you are displaying the appropriate signage. Ensure that you adhere to best practice under the Data Protection Act.
For further advice or assistance in dealing with violence in the workplace, please contact Lianne Payne, Head of Employment, on 024 7623 1000.
Askews Legal LLP -Coventry Solicitors.