Anger is a normal human emotion. However, when it is expressed inappropriately or when it involves threats, intimidation or acts of verbal or physical aggression, it is a significant workplace and societal issue. Often the first response an employer may take with an angry employee is to refer him or her for anger management counseling. However, each situation should be assessed individually to determine how an employer should proceed. An employer must determine if the individual is prone to outbursts of anger at work or if, believe it or not, the person may have significant anger issues that may be protected by various laws, if the anger is caused by or related to a medical condition.
Some employees may have angry outbursts that are not directed at anyone but they are still intimidating and inappropriate. Others may be harassing or bullying co-workers. This behavior may have been occuring for a long time because co-workers are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation.
Workplace bullying as defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute is …”repeated, health harming mistreatment of one or more persons… one or more perpetrators… in the form of verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating or work interference-sabotage- which prevents work from getting done.” Obviously, this definition covers someone who behaves badly at work but also may describe someone with a serious psychological problem.
So, what should an employer do?
First of all, someone who has an inappropriate or unpleasant demeanor at work should be confronted as soon as possible to prevent escalation in the future. The longer an employee is permitted to get away with negative behavior, the harder it will be to confront. It is crucial that employers have zero tolerance policies for harassment, bullying, threats, or acts of physical or verbal aggression toward anyone at work. Clear expectations should be given about interpersonal interactions and behavior at work. Consequences for failing to improve negative behavior should also be addressed. If an employee makes threats of violence, these threats should always be taken seriously and investigated immediately. It may be necessary to call law enforcement or remove the individual from the workplace until the investigation or assessment has been completed.
It is also not advisable to refer an employee for specific treatment, anger management or counseling because creating a diagnosis or the inference of one, could trigger certain issues and protections with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). According to Sara J. Fagnilli, an attorney with Walter & Haverfield LLP in Cleveland,OH, requiring an employee to obtain counseling could be found to be equivalent to requiring a medical exam. In order for an employer to avoid a violations of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAA), it must demonstrate that such an exam (or counseling) is job related and a business necessity.
We are always available to consult with you about angry employees and to assist you with a management referral to the EAP based on performance. In certain situations, we may advise you to consult with legal counsel early in the process.
Stay tuned for our in-person harassment training in early February!