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Punch a co-worker? There should be consequences

The NBA's Clippers seem to have buried their head in the sand when it comes to workplace violence

What would you do if one of your top performers punched a colleague?

That’s a quandary facing the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers after Blake Griffin decked one of the team’s equipment managers outside a Toronto restaurant last week, according to Reuters.

“Griffin threw multiple punches in a back-and-forth exchange with assistant equipment manager Mathias Testi, who was left with a severely swollen face but no fractures,” according to Reuters.

He broke his hand while throwing the punch, and is expected to miss four to six weeks of playing time.

Though the team’s coach and owner said all the right things in a joint statement, such as “this conduct has no place in our organization,” ultimately there is no real discipline coming from the team, according to multiple media reports. So much for the quandary.

In the real world, this type of behaviour by management wouldn’t fly. With so much focus on workplace violence, and so much onus placed on employers, management could not afford to turn a blind eye if an employee assaulted a co-worker.

That’s not to say Griffin should have been immediately fired — we all know the bar for just cause terminations has been set incredibly high. And he expressed remorse, which does count for something.

At the time of writing, the NBA itself had not completed its investigation — and pundits are expecting a suspension of one or two games. But that’s the league, not his team. The worker Griffin punched gets his paycheque from the Clippers, not the NBA.

There should have been some official discipline from the team itself, some clear message from the top that physically assaulting another worker has consequences that go beyond lip service. Don’t wait for the NBA to play the role of enforcer — that’s the coward’s way out.

Last year, the BBC faced a similar situation when Jeremy Clarkson — the curmudgeonly charming host of the hit television series Top Gear — punched a producer, apparently over the lack of a hot meal at a hotel following a long day.

The BBC, to its credit, did a thorough investigation. At the end of it, the BBC fired Clarkson despite the fact his show brought it tens of millions of dollars for the company and was viewed by more than 350 million people around the world.

It took a stand and said, clearly, violence in the workplace is not tolerable. And it doesn’t matter who you are — if you assault a colleague, there will be serious consequences. In the working world, there is no more serious consequence than losing your job. It is the capital punishment of employment law.

After Clarkson was turfed, he wrote the following cryptic comments in a newspaper column: “I think it’s fair to say that nature made a mistake when it invented the dinosaur. It was too big, too violent … so one day all the dinosaurs died — and now, many years later, no one mourns their passing.”

But some dinosaurs still roam the earth when it comes to workplace violence. While the vast majority understand how unacceptable it is, high profile cases like Griffin — that go essentially unpunished — send a very wrong message.

Griffin was in the wrong when he punched his colleague. He seems to understand this, and has shown remorse. But the sin of the Clippers, of wilfully burying their head in the sand and hoping this just quietly goes away, is just as bad as that punch that was thrown in the streets of Toronto.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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