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Conflict forms a part of employees’ working life and often acts as a means to an end. The best way to work out individual differences which stem from conflict is to create an opportunity for discussions aimed at reaching a consensus. Misunderstanding or conflict at the workplace is inevitable as employees have different personality types and temperaments. These conflicts or misunderstandings have the potential to escalate into physical fights if not managed properly. Arguments can escalate from a verbal confrontation to an actual exchange of punches. Additionally, "hotheads" who bring their tempers and bullying antics to work incite these conflicts to get worse.

Fighting between two employees is a form of workplace violence and will be tantamount to Misconduct or Gross Misconduct depending on the company’s policy.

Existing literature suggests that some form of conflict is necessary for human existence meaning conflicts in themselves are not bad in their entirety. According to Thomas Crum’s book, Magic of Conflict (1987), the attitude toward conflict makes it good or bad, as Thomas Crum emphasizes with the quote “the quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them”

Fighting employees have the potential to impact the entire workplace. These hostile behaviors become an embarrassment to the organization, the employees who participate, and to the co-workers who find themselves in the position to witness such irresponsible acts.

Physical fighting between employees at the workplace brings a lot of issues that management has to deal with. This is because physical fighting has the potential for employees to harm one another, their surroundings, or even other employees exposing the company to unnecessary risks and possible liabilities. Heated arguments can disrupt the workplace, affect productivity and elevate workplace stress. When hostile activities go unchecked, employees are forced to deal with uncomfortable disruptions that prevent them from getting their work done.

When a supervisor is fighting or quarreling with employees, he or she is duty-bound to address the situation, immediately halt violent acts, and follow established protocols for dealing with such situations.

Generally, the following steps can be followed when handling physical fights at the workplace;

  1. Issue a query letter to allow concerned parties to respond.

  2. Decide if the matter should be addressed informally or formally, following the response from the query letter.

  3. When HR decides that the matter should be dealt with informally, the required procedures are followed.

  4. In consultation with the employee’s manager or supervisor, HR should arrange a meeting with the employee to further ascertain the facts of the issue.

  5. Where the employee accepts responsibility following the meeting, HR should advise the employee’s manager or supervisor on the appropriate sanction that should be applied

  6. Where the employee does not accept responsibility, HR then rolls out the formal procedure for dealing with disciplinary issues by setting up a formal disciplinary hearing with an odd-numbered Disciplinary Committee.

  7. Commerce is an investigation and fact-finding process.

  8. Invite the concerned parties, in writing, to a disciplinary hearing, providing sufficient information about the misconduct, following the investigation report as it becomes evident that there is a disciplinary case to answer.

  9. Provide copies of evidence to the concerned parties before the hearing and remind them that they are allowed to bring a colleague to the hearing either as a witness or a companion. You should also remind the concerned parties that their companion can address the Disciplinary Committee but may not interrogate or cross-examine witnesses, and cannot answer questions on behalf of the employee.

  10. All evidence must be discussed to establish the facts and all clarification points must be raised at the hearing to enable a full understanding of the issues. If further investigations are required, the disciplinary hearing shall be adjourned.

  11. The Disciplinary Committee must reconvene separately within seven (7) working days, to reflect on all the discussions held during the meeting, reach a decision, and send their recommendations to Management for a final decision.

  12. The outcome of the hearing must be shared with the concerned parties with a written confirmation letter that informs them of the right to appeal the outcome of the decision.

In conclusion

Organizations should have Policies and Procedures guiding behavior and spelling out sanctions for breaches. Employees must be aware of these policies and procedures to minimize improper behavior. Due process is to be followed at all times devoid of prejudices and biases.


OML Africa | Thomas Crum, Magic of Conflict (1987)



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Dealing with physical fights at the workplace
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