Employee fights and threats

When should an employer hand things over to the police?
By Tim Mitchell
|Canadian Employment Law Today|Last Updated: 09/21/2011

Question: If an employee threatens another employee with physical violence or takes a swing at him, should it remain an internal matter? At what point is it beyond the employer’s jurisdiction and police should be called?

Answer: There is no hard and fast jurisdictional rule that establishes when the police should be called in relation to an actual or potential assault committed at the workplace. Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the particular incident will be important in deciding if the incident warrants police involvement. Such factors as the seriousness of the incident, the nature of the workplace, any history of conflict between the employees and whether the incident involved an actual assault or a threat not taken seriously by either party will be relevant to that decision.

That said, every incident of violence or threatened violence in the workplace must be taken seriously by employers. While employers have always been under a duty to insure the safety of their employees, recent changes to provincial and federal occupational health and safety legislation have given that duty a more precise form. The need for such legislation has been graphically illustrated in a number of notorious incidents and in a 2004 Statistics Canada survey that found that 17 per cent of all self-reported violent incidents occurred at the victim’s workplace. The new legislation typically requires employers to address the issue of workplace violence in very specific ways.