Written by Robert D. Sollars
You may think that to paraphrase an old poem, an assault is an assault is an assault. But it’s not and never has been. Some assaults are intentional and others are not. Some are meant in jest and others are meant in anger. Do you know the differences between jokes that threaten an assault and one that is actually a threat of an assault?
In some cases, people get reported to HR, security, or law enforcement because what they witness is not understood completely. Not saying that assaults should not be taken seriously, but there is always the possibility for us to misinterpret an ‘assault’. Let me give you a few examples from my own misinterpreted past;
In high school, many decades ago, I was at a girlfriend’s house. We were outside, in the front yard, playing with her younger brothers and sisters. I was trying to show them how people got beat up on television and not get really hurt. I swung, Pam was a great actress, and fell down, without my fists contacting her.
She then tried it on her youngest sister; she was about 4 or 5 at the time. The little sister didn’t move fast enough. Pam knocked her down and loosened a tooth. A car driving by stopped and flagged down a cop and told them what they had witnessed. Needless to say, I was no longer welcomed back by her parents, and the relationship, shall we say…over.
Right after I went blind in 2004, my wife and I were walking together in a large box store. She stopped to look at something. She asked me a question and I began to turn around to handle whatever it was. I swung my arm a little wide and bloodied her nose. A store employee saw that and called the cops for domestic violence. (I wasn’t wearing sunglasses nor was my cane visible in the cart, so…)
Now let’s move to the factory or office area and see what can be misconstrued there. Many things between both friends and enemies can be misinterpreted very easily in this age of everyone being ‘concerned’ and overly sensitive. Another few examples that I have observed in my nearly 40 years in the security field;
“You butt ugly son-of-a-bitch, I’m gonna kick your stinky covered ass when we get to the parking lot!” Then the employee walks with the other employee out the door talking. Is this a threat or a good-natured jibe? If you had only heard the exchange, you’d be right in thinking it was a threat. And of course, it does need to be investigated, but not to the point of suspending employees or calling the police.
If the same sentence was stated to someone and then a finger waggled in front of their nose, or fist, it would be different. Then you could consider that good-natured jibe a legitimate threat to another employee, and calling the police or security would be the right choice.
The same goes for one employee to turn around and hit someone on the arm, leg, or back. From a distance, it may look like an assault, but was it really? Take in the totality of the facts about the hit. Did the person being hit turn around and try to hit the person who hit them? Was the swing in earnest, accidental or playful?
Assaults and WPV are never something to neither joke about nor ignore just because the people are friends. Employees should always report such things and let HR, security, or management take it from there. What they decide to do is NOT overreact to a situation. Ask a couple of good questions and be done before making a snap judgment on suspension or termination, even if you do have a zero-tolerance policy.
In my NTBH, (never to be humble), opinion zero-tolerance policies are nothing but a catch-all for HR, security, and management that are overstretched and have limited budgets to get rid of anything that rocks the boat. It really stands for zero brains.
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