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Fighting in the Workplace


With or without a written policy, fighting in the workplace is taboo. Many employers do have written policies about fighting. Some policies call for the automatic termination of anyone engaged in a fight. In other words, there’s zero tolerance for fighting.

A fight recently broke out at the Washington Post between a reporter and an editor. The editor was berating the story of the reporter’s colleague. The reporter, in defense of his friend, called the editor an expletive. The editor threw a punch. Others in the newsroom rushed to break up the altercation.

The editor, a Pulitzer Prize winner, had already taken his employer’s buyout proposal and had only three weeks left at the paper. Apparently, there was more to the fight than just one incident. Some scoffed that a fight in a newsroom would make news, given the history of fights in the newspaper business.

It’s unclear whether the Post has a policy on fighting or whether it will take any action against the editor or reporter. Since the editor is on the way out the door after many years of service and since tempers are probably flaring more than ever in most newsrooms these days, it’s unlikely that the Post will enforce much, if any, discipline.

This is a good example of why zero tolerance policies aren’t good for the workplace, as noted in a post I did a few days ago. I’m not saying that fighting at work shouldn’t be taken seriously. I am saying that each incident can’t be handled the same way.

  1. ACU Frank says:

    On the other hand, this would probably be a great way for the Post to eliminate a buyout payment. I would think the buyout offer had some sort of clause requiring a certain level of performance through the remainder of employment.

  2. John Phillips says:

    ACU Frank,

    Thanks for comment and good point. The clause you’re referring to usually doesn’t address fighting but probably contains a general catchall provision that could very well cover fighting. This incident has also provoked some unwanted publicity for the Post. That said and bearing in mind that I don’t have all the facts, I think I’d rather have the editor’s side of this than the Post’s, although it’s the side of the employer I’m usually on.



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