Can your boss throw something at you? Physically, yes, of course he can. Should he throw it? He'd better not. While large-scale violence in the workplace grabs the most media attention, many workers are exposed daily to personal abuse ranging from cursing and temper tantrums to outright physical attacks. This endangers the targets and exposes the perpetrators to possible dismissal, litigation and even criminal charges.
Regardless of whether or not you were struck or injured by your boss’s object toss, the very act meets the description of workplace violence established by the U.S. Department of Labor: “Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” It includes threats, verbal abuse, physical assaults and homicide. The FBI further defines four types of workplace violence, including violence aimed at employees and violence against co-workers, supervisors or managers by a present or former employee. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide their workers with conditions that are free from known dangers.
If this was an isolated incident and the boss apologizes, and if you really want to keep the job, you could overlook what happened. Perhaps a mistake on your part provoked the outburst. While nothing excuses such violent behavior, an apology and a promise to do better from both parties might calm the situation. On the other hand, if your boss has a history of such explosive behavior, you should report the incident to human resources or your boss’s superior. The FBI identifies personality conflicts between a worker and supervisor among risk factors for workplace violence. Violent workplace behavior can often be predicted by such signs as verbal threats and abuse, angry outbursts, harassing phone calls and emails, belligerence and changes in behavior, signs of paranoia and mood swings.
Even if you do not plan to take any action at this time, start a paper trail listing this event, the date, any witnesses, what led up to the attack and any previous similar aggressive or inappropriate behavior by your boss. Thus, if you are targeted again, you will have a record of prior incidents to report to HR or upper management. HR may be aware of a pattern of behavior and recommend the boss seek anger management counseling. The out-of-control boss may even be dismissed.
If the thrown object struck you, file a police report. Even if you weren't hit, you might consider suing, but first consult a lawyer who is experienced in employment law. In this litigious society, people pick up the phone to call a lawyer at the slightest pretext. While suing a boss who threw something at you could be emotionally satisfying, it will not necessarily provide the desired result. If you were not struck and injured, it is not likely that you could win damages in court.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation: Workplace Violence
- U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Workplace Violence
- U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation: Workplace Violence Issues in Response
- ABCGoodMorningAmerica: How to Handle a Nasty Boss
- UndercoverLawyer: The Abusive Boss Who Got Sued for “Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress”
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.