A reader writes:
I’ve been working for my company for two years. I’ve been a model employee. Recently a fight broke out at the company Christmas party between me and a co-worker, but it was off the clock and off company property. My boss wants me to resign. What should I do? I feel he’s setting me up so I can’t collect unemployment insurance.
There’s a mistaken belief out there that if you do something off the clock or away from company property, it’s none of their business and they can’t discipline or fire you for it. In fact, they can.
So, for instance, if you ran into a coworker at the grocery store and unleashed a profanity-laden rant at her about how much you hate her, they could fire you for that. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen at work. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be an incident involving a coworker! If your boss happened to observe you spewing profanity at the grocery store cashier, she could fire you for that — simply by saying that your behavior was so inappropriate that they don’t want you representing their company in the community.
(This assumes that you’re an at-will employee, like most employees in the U.S., and that you don’t have an employment contract that guarantees employment for a particular length of time. Although even those contracts usually have outs that allow the company to fire you for certain types of behavior.)
However, in this case, the fight actually took place at a company event, which makes it even more their business than if it had been at something totally unrelated to work. It doesn’t matter that the party wasn’t on company property; it was at a company-sponsored event. So even if we throw out all the stuff above about how they can fire you for your private weekend behavior if they want to, most reasonable people would still find it logical that a company would have an issue with you getting into fisticuffs with a coworker at their party.
Now, as for him asking you to resign, it might be because he doesn’t want you to be able to collect unemployment, but you’re probably not going to be eligible for unemployment anyway because hitting a coworker is generally egregious enough to disqualify you. So it’s more likely that he’s asking you to resign because it’s a more “genteel” way of handling things than firing you. He won’t have to fire you, and you won’t have to answer “yes” when future employers ask if you’ve ever been fired from a job.
It’s certainly your prerogative to decline to resign, but it’s likely that’ll just force him to fire you. I’m not sure that you have any way around that, unless there were any mitigating circumstances that could paint your actions in a better light. The only one I can think of is if you were defending yourself from someone who hit you first. Any chance that was the case? Or, if you want to share the circumstances in the comments, maybe we can suggest something else. (And besides, I’m dying to know, so you should do that regardless.)
In general, don’t hit your coworkers, whether it’s at work or not.