Margaret A. Lucero is an assistant professor of management at the University of Wyoming, where she teaches human-resources management and organizational behavior. Her current research interests focus on workplace aggression and international human-resources issues. Robert E. Allen teaches industrial relations, conflict resolution and business ethics at the University of Wyoming. He is also a labor arbitrator with 20 years’ experience.
Disciplinary action is an important tool that employers can use to punish aggressive workers. However, arbitrators commonly reduce or rescind employer-imposed discipline in cases involving aggressive behavior. This article examines the mitigating circumstances cited by arbitrators in cases concerning discipline for physical or verbal abuse of supervisors and discusses case differences in disciplinary penalty and arbitrator decision. Examples of the various types of mitigating circumstances are discussed with implications for developing and implementing the practices and procedures necessary to reduce workplace aggression and violence.
During the past decade, a startling number of workplace murders perpetrated by current or former employees have been documented in the popular press. Unfortunately, these commonly reported incidents are probably only the “tip of the iceberg.” Currently available data indicate that “vastly larger numbers are the targets of less dramatic forms of aggression—for example, aggression that is verbal in nature, or physical actions that are far less extreme than attacks with deadly weapons.”1 Despite the growing importance of this issue for employees and employers, the study of aggression and violence in the workplace continues to be an under-researched issue, resulting in a relative lack of substantive advice for practitioners.2