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Assault 101: How to handle an office punch-up

by , 06 November 2013
It turns out that our former president, Thabo Mbekhi, narrowly missed a punch from former US president, Jimmy Carter. The two were arguing about HIV/Aids, and South Africa's lack of a treatment plan at the time, back in the late '90s. Just goes to show you - even heads of state aren't always in control of their emotions! And this could easily happen at your place of work, where employees disagree so strongly, their argument turns into a punch up...

In terms of the law, if one employee s hits or punch another employee, the former could be guilty of assault. You must treat the situation seriously, as it's your obligation to protect the health and safety of all employees.
Follow these six steps to handle workplace assault correctly
Use this 6-step guideline from our labour experts, if a fight or assault happens in your workplace:
Step 1: Assess the seriousness of any injury and, if necessary, call for an ambulance or paramedic assistance.
Step 2: Interview both employees separately as soon as possible. (I.e. both the alleged aggressor and victim in the case of assault, or both employees who were fighting.) If possible, get a written and signed statement from each of them.
Step 3:  If any employee or member of the public witnessed the incident, take a statement from that person and get them to sign it. If it's someone from outside the company, ask if he'll testify at a disciplinary enquiry. If he agrees to testify, make sure you get all his contact details. If the outsider isn't willing to testify, try to get him to make a sworn affidavit at the nearest police station.
Step 4: Apart from verbal evidence of what happened, check documentary evidence(e.g. any medical report of injuries sustained by either party, any X-Ray reports, any hospital records, etc.  ).
Step 5: Evaluate the evidence and decide if it was an assault or a fight.
Ø  If the evidence suggests it was an assault, draw up allegations in line with your disciplinary code and schedule a disciplinary enquiry. Remember if the victim's booked off work for a period of time, schedule the enquiry for a date after the victim's recovered. Unless you believe the aggressor's likely to intimidate any witnesses or interfere with the investigation, it's not generally necessary to suspend him pending the disciplinary enquiry.
Ø  If the evidence suggests it was a fight, you must draw up allegations against both employees in line with your disciplinary policy and schedule an enquiry. It's usually better to hold separate disciplinary enquiries because it'll prevent one of the employees from intimidating the other during the disciplinary enquiry. Although fighting's a serious offence and could lead to dismissal, it's not normally necessary to suspend both employees, unless they're likely to continue hostilities or intimidate each other or intimidate witnesses.
Step 6:  Appoint a neutral chairperson to chair the enquiry.
There you have it, by following these steps you can ensure that you deal with office assault correctly.

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