Deadbeat Dad–Part 2
Officer Miljus, wrenching in pain, fell to the ground as Hank ran back into the department, closely pursued by Officer Cranston and the security guards.
Gordon's heart raced as he ran to the phone and called 911. "I have an officer hurt. One of our employees here just broke the officer's leg. Please send paramedics and backup quickly to the Banger Building, fifth floor."
"Is your employee armed, sir?" the 911 operator asked.
"No, but he must know karate, and they can't get him to calm down," Gordon said, craning to keep his eye on the chase.
"Is there anyone else with you?"
"Our internal security guards and one of your officers, Officer Cranston," Gordon responded.
"Don't worry, sir, backup and the paramedics are on their way," the 911 operator assured him.
The security guards and Officer Cranston chased Hank into the department. Hank's co-workers sat stunned as they watched Hank run into a small glassed-in office as the officers followed him. Cornered, Hank did what he knew best and applied his black belt techniques on the chief of security, throwing him through the door and onto a co-worker's desk. Norton realized he was ill-equipped to deal with Hank's physical abilities, and ran to help the chief. Officer Cranston tried to restrain Hank with his nightstick, but Hank kicked it out of his hand.
Moments later several other police officers arrived and charged forcefully toward Hank with nightsticks poised. Hank's co-workers stared in horror. They watched the four police officers wrestle with Hank and blast thunderous blows with their clubs to finally contain him. Exhausted and defeated, Hank dropped to his knees, covered his head with his hands, and finally fell to the floor.
They cuffed his hands and shackled his feet, dragging him out of the building as Janet, Gordon, and the others stood in disbelief. Meanwhile, the paramedics worked on Officer Miljus's shattered leg and rolled him out on a gurney. Mark Kello only suffered minor bruises.
After Hank was taken out and the paramedics left, Janet told her staff to take an early lunch. Gordon raced down to his office and told Maxine to cancel his benefits presentations.
Still shaking, he called corporate counsel, John Essex, and spilled the story. John advised Gordon to immediately arrange for security to clean out Hank's desk and send Hank's belongings to his home. Then John provided verbiage for a letter to Hank, telling him that he was being terminated for fighting.
Gordon took detailed notes and complied with John's counsel. Although the company never heard from Hank again, his co-workers, Janet, and Gordon were deeply affected. Over time, each of them left the company and tried to forget the events of that day.
Gordon was too eager to cooperate with the police and allowed the situation to escalate into a major confrontation. We like to cooperate–but it is not the HR manager's responsibility to assist in the law enforcement process. There was no reason for Gordon or the security force to be active in the arrest, nor for Gordon to reveal the specific reason for the warrant to Hank's supervisor.
In general, we believe that a company should take no action that has the potential of disrupting the workplace or worker productivity, even if it means saying "no" to an outside agency. Gordon's imprudent decision exposed other employees to potential harm. Gordon should have given the police Hank's schedule and suggested they try to serve the warrant away from work. If for some reason that was not possible, Gordon should have contacted legal or security to make sure the warrant was legitimate. Next, he should have met with Hank one-on-one and given him a chance to explain his side of the story. Afterward, Gordon could bring in the police officers. They would indicate that Hank had violated the local laws regarding child support, handcuff him, and take him away discreetly. In this way Hank could have maintained his dignity and probably his job.
The attrition of Hank's work group following his departure makes it clear that there was a need for post-trauma counseling to put Hank's situation in proper perspective. The employees' early dismissal for lunch was a poor decision. Both Gordon and Janet as well as the others in the work unit might have benefited from group and/or individual counseling immediately after the event. We give Gordon an F on this one.
This story illustrates today's ever-increasing dilemma facing employers: employees' personal problems spilling over into the workplace.
Generally, employers are not required by law to permit police bearing arrest warrants to enter the employer's premises in order to reach employees. The fiasco that ensued after Gordon and the police approached Hank as if he were one of America's Ten Most Wanted illustrates one reason why an employer should not mix business with police action.
A policy should be in place to address this type of situation before it happens. Here, the company was fortunate that the police came to the human resources department rather than going straight to the department head.
Employers need to avoid appearing to be an "agent" of the police or the government or they may be held liable as "government actors." For example, normally, a private employer could not be implicated for an individual’s false arrest, but if the employer participated closely with the police on its premises and provided security guard backup, it is possible that the employer could be implicated in a false-arrest situation.
Employers should be mindful of the distinction between arrest warrants and search warrants. If police arrive on the employer's premises with a search warrant, check with legal counsel. Most likely you will be required to cooperate with a valid search warrant.
However, if an employer wishes to be a "good citizen" and permit police with warrants on its premises, it certainly can be done in a much calmer and more private way. From a privacy standpoint, Gordon broke the general rule of thumb: private and confidential information about one's employees should only be disclosed on a need-to-know basis–otherwise the company may be setting itself up for an invasion of privacy claim.
Gordon called corporate counsel too late. A word to the wise: no human resources official ever got into trouble for seeking legal advice up front; many have by delaying.
Excerpted from Sex, Laws, & Stereotypes, by N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.©