I punched a coworker at the company Christmas party

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.

{ 125 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    The only place I see that it says that it was a physical fight is in the title. Is there any reason to believe that it wasn’t just strong words being exchanged? That would change the situation IMO.

    1. joey*

      Most people don’t refer to an argument as “a fight broke out.” I’d be surprised if that was the case.

      I’m kinda surprised the op isn’t feeling weird just going back to the office. And, how on earth can you believe that a fight at a company party won’t get you fired? Take the offer to resign as a gift for being a model employee up to that point. If you threw the first punch the only reasonable excuse I could think of not to fire you is if someone did something to violate you like grab your genitals or something.

      1. Dawn*

        “And, how on earth can you believe that a fight at a company party won’t get you fired?”

        Because some people don’t think about the bigger picture, that they’re actually representing their company no matter if they’re on the clock or not, on company property or not. To some it’s just a job and what they do outside of work shouldn’t matter. I dont’ know if that’s the OP’s attitude or not.

        1. joey*

          Makes me wonder the age of some of these posters. And, whether or not they’re at least attempting to apply some basic logic to some of these questions.

            1. Joey*

              Age has a lot to do with it and so does education level, at least in my experiences. Most (but not quite all) of the folks who I’ve dealt with who have gotten into fights at work tend to be either young, of a low education level or both. Males more than females.

              1. Kate*

                Still, that’s a sweeping generalization of younger people. You would be up in arms if a poster said soething to the same effect concerning older people, right?

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I sympathetic to the desire not to generalize, but I think it’s pretty well established that younger males are more likely to get act rashly; there’s a reason their car insurance premiums are higher.

              3. K*

                I would rather put the generalization out there that alcohol leads to less than rational behaviour. I know of many circumstances where rather senior, well educated, middle-aged gentlemen have nearly been thrown out of the corporate events they were hosting due to the consequences of a little too much time at the bar.

                Crazy-stupid things happen when alcohol is involved. To everyone.

        2. JfC*

          While it’s certainly reasonable to terminate employees for illegal stuff like assault in this case, the ‘always on the clock’ attitude concerns me. Within living memory people could be fired for being gay, because it would ‘disgrace the company.’ People’s identities are more than their jobs.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d argue that it’s less about being always on the clock and more just about the nature of at-will employment, where if the company decides that it’s not in their business interest to continue to employ you, for whatever reason, they can act on that decision.

          2. Elizabeth*

            Sexual orientation is, at least in some jurisdictions, a protected class – and, as you mention, a part of someone’s identity. Punching someone, though, isn’t part of your identity; it’s a behavior. Same with things like getting falling-down drunk in public, verbally abusing a grocery store cashier, or posting racist rants on your blog in your spare time – all of which could be valid reasons (in my opinion) for a company to fire someone.

            1. JfC*

              My point is that it didn’t used to be a protected class, and employers fought against it becoming so because it was thought to be disgraceful to be gay. And I said I thought stuff like assault and harassment, etc are fair game. The company was absolutely right to cut ties with the letter writer. Mostly I’m concerned with stuff like say, Alison’s political protest arrest being used against her, or someone overhearing me swearing in a casual context with friends and using that against me. I understand how at-will employment works, I just dislike that it’s extending to stuff like ‘was once photographed drunk in university.’ The expectation that everyone conduct their lives like they’re running for office just bothers me.

              1. Joey*

                Jfc, I think just about everyone has shared your opinion at some point in their lives, but some people have learned that to advance you have to accept reality. I know Alison doesn’t want another discussion about that aspect of her personal life, but we’ve all done things that have had unintended consequences. Once you learn to anticipate and accept the consequences of everything you do you’ll learn that it’s counterproductive to hold onto that view.

              2. Katya*

                Joey: I think you can hold this view while still being able to “accept reality.” Just because something is a certain way and most people learn to act in accordance with it, doesn’t make it fair (or right) or mean that we can’t wish things were different.

          3. Joey*

            It speaks to character. Now as an employer I try to stay out of the personal lives of employees, but if you don’t keep your private life private I have to determine whether it will or can negatively impact in any way my company’s work environment or reputation in the professional or local community. Of course all of this should be done within the boundaries of the law.

            If you want just a job find just a job, but understand the higher the pay the more this stuff matters.

            1. Jerseyknit*

              I don’t know if I’d agree about the higher the pay the more it matters. If you’re a replaceable, low-level employee at a huge company, there’s no harm in canning you if they determine you’re more trouble than you’re worth; they can get someone else just as cheaply. If you’re a high-level specialist with hard-to-find skills, there are more factors to weigh. However, you can’t advance to a higher level if you’re constantly demonstrating off-putting qualities.

              1. Joey*

                My point is the higher you are on the food chain the more I’m going to care about what you do in your private life.

            1. Natalie*

              You are correct. Sexual orientation is not protected at the federal level, and it is only protected on the state/district level in 16 states and Washington DC.

        3. Jerseyknit*

          That may be true, but whenever I think about the fact that I have to represent a company’s image 24 hours a day solely because that company pays me, it’s hard not to feel like a wage slave. It should be “just a job,” but unfortunately, that’s not possible.

          The above musing should not be interpreted, however, to apply to fist fights at an office party.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The thing is that companies employ people. And they (hopefully) look for people who are honest, polite, not crazy, etc. So if they they see you, say, unleashing a scary fit of rage at a a kid on a playground, it’s not crazy for them to feel like they don’t want to share office space with you any longer, or that they don’t want the bystanders who witnessed that to walk into their store tomorrow and see you at the register.

            1. Jerseyknit*

              I understand that. I’m talking about the internalized paranoia and self-censorship of knowing someone could fire you for an innocuous reason, like, say, private political activity or beliefs that don’t have anything to do with work or trying to unionize. It’s a continuum.

            2. That HR Girl*

              Exactly… I work for a children’s retailer. If I was observed being physically abusive or neglectful to my own child (I don’t have any, just an example) – Say, on the 5:00 news for leaving my kid locked in a hot car – I would be a very poor reflection of everything my company stands for. That’s a very clear-cut example.

              In OP’s case, what would other coworkers think if the manager DIDN’T fire OP? That would set a terrible example…

              1. Jerseyknit*

                That’s an interesting example. I’d recommend this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701549.html

                Among the tragic mistakes a parent can make, that’s actually one of the more common. So, if it were accidental, a parent not only has their grief and feelings of guilt to deal with, but the specter of financial and professional ruin, potentially leading to greater hardships for other children in the family.

                What if a parent who works in a retail children’s clothing store drove recklessly (or even above the speed limit) with their kids in the car, arguably a greater cause of children’s deaths? Would that conscious endangerment make someone unfit to sell kids’ clothes? It seems like a tenuous link.

                The prejudice bosses are allowed to exercise for at-will employees gives people constant low-level anxiety about losing their jobs based on subjective moral judgments. Recourse is only available if the unfair reason for the firing happens to fall within the very narrow scope of legal workplace protections.

                It’s definitely fair to fire someone for fighting at a work event, which violates workplace policies and the law, as well as other employees’ sense of safety. I’m not arguing about that.

                What disturbs me isn’t even necessarily the leeway employers have in firing people for unfair reasons, since a company’s MO is going to be to protect itself. What I find disturbing is the growing number of ordinary people who give the employer the benefit of the doubt to justify a vast imbalance of power and don’t question whether there are more rights worth fighting for in the workplace.

          2. Dawn*

            There’s things that wouldn’t matter to me as a manager, like seeing pictures of a drunken co-worker on the internet or something similar. We are human after all and we all like to blow off some steam. What *would* bother me and cause me to see the person in a different light, or question their abilities and judgment, would be hearing that a co-worker got drunk and beat his wife, does cocaine or some other hard drug on the weekends, tortures animals for fun, flies into a rage when dealing with service people, etc. That’s someone I wouldn’t want to have my company connected with.

            1. JfC*

              I feel that we’ve thoroughly derailed this discussion, as no one disagrees with the action taken against the guy getting into fisticuffs at an office party. Anyways, I’d like to thank you for being reasonable, as some people extend the ‘representing the company 24/7’ principle to unreasonable lengths.

      2. Anonymous*

        Eh, if it was a screaming match, I could see calling it a fight…

        Just playing devils advocate, I suppose. Obviously anything that could be classified as fighting is nothing that should be at a company holiday party

    2. Dawn*

      I read it as a physical fight. It says “a fight broke out.” If it wasn’t physical I’m guessing it would say they got into a heated argument, or something to that effect.

  2. Kelly O*

    Even then, fighting verbally at the Christmas party is not exactly a great way to behave and would probably fall in the same category with the comments from AAM – they’re asking the OP to resign rather than straight-out firing them so they can deal with the situation a little more delicately.

    My opinion of verbal altercations may be somewhat biased due to my current environment, where this is not necessarily unusual. It doesn’t make for a happy or healthy environment, that’s for sure, and I’ve worked plenty of other places where one-fifth of what I hear daily would justify being asked to step down.

    The verbal is almost worse than physical to me, purely because I think the words stick with you longer than the punch does.

  3. Anonymous*

    Classic. There were a number of posts a couple weeks ago about whether or not one should skip the company holiday party. Maybe this is another reason to do so.

    At every company, there is someone who most co-workers would like to punch. There is also someone who is probably prone to punch people. When you put those two people together in a room and add alcohol, things tend to happen.

    And, by the way, if you are one of those two people, you should probably skip the party for sure…..

    1. Anonymous*

      And skip any future parties that might be offered at future jobs!

      AAM, please pretty please put this one down for the “where are you” post in December 2012!

  4. Gene*

    I hate to admit that I actually laughed out loud when I read the title as the page opened.

    Pretty much what AAM said, unless you are working under some sort of contract that would allow you to contest a firing for cause (and this would qualify most places), it’s time to man up and resign.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        … or taking a severance and remaining on the payroll for x weeks to give you the chance to find a job.

        I agree with previous commenter, good reason not to have a christmas party.

      2. Joey*

        It’s kind of a long shot to negotiate anything except the reference. I think they’ve already been very generous allowing a resignation. I bite my tongue when I only verify a resignation when there was more to the story. I would almost never concede unemployment and vacation payout unless the alternative was going to cost me more.

        1. KellyK*

          Yeah, the only reason you might not resign is if it were legitimately self-defense. If that were the case, it might be worth negotiating the resignation because the work environment after something like that happens isn’t something you want to deal with, even if you weren’t the instigator.

          But, I think if it were self-defense, the poster would’ve stated that a lot more emphatically. ( “A fight broke out” is passive and weaselly–if I ever hit someone in self-defense, I’d be much more inclined to say “They *hit* me, so of course I defended myself.”)

        2. That HR Girl*

          AGREED. I would never concede the unemployment. To me, it feels like lying. If the termination was due to a disqualifying reason, then they shouldn’t be eligible, period.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, pretty much. Who does this stuff anymore?

      “Yeah, I was offended so I took it out on his face”, who in the hell do you think you are?

  5. Anonymous*

    Why is this person actually asking what to do? It is kind of logical to just leave… period. It’s almost like a child telling their mommy “I stile somethign from the store, what should I do? They probably don’t like me.” You gotta be responsible for your own actions.

  6. Anonymous*

    Dear OP: Thank you for providing this story. I will remember it for a long time, and live vicariously through you every time I feel the need to punch someone. However, if I were you, I would take the offer to resign.

    What happened to the other guy?

  7. T.T.*

    Hey there! I hate to point out a missing word but I think you may have forgotten one in the last paragraph!
    “I’m not sure that you have any way around that, unless there (?) any mitigating circumstances that could paint your actions in a better light. ”

    I’m definitely looking forward to the comments on this post!

  8. joey*

    Notice how the op is kind of vague about exactly what he did wrong, is attempting to share the blame, and deflect accountability. As an employee you would get much more respect from your boss if you owned your mistakes, didn’t give any excuses and expressed your remorse. I’m not saying this would save your job, but you can bet your boss will remember that when he’s called for a reference.

  9. Julie*

    Assuming that the OP has in fact been a “model employee” up until this point, I’d also advise some sort of note or apology with the resignation: “What I did was radically inappropriate, no matter the circumstances. I wish to apologize both to Joe and to the rest of the company for my actions.”

    That way, when they’re giving you a reference in the future, at least they’ll see the fight as a one-off moment of stupidity that was handled as well as possible after the fact, and not a general reflection of character.

    1. Anonymous*

      “Mistakes were made,” “I’m very sorry that you took offense to my comments,” and “We’ve had some sex, er, setbacks.”

  10. Nichole*

    I wonder (and this is purely me speculating, as I am wont to do) if the boss is giving the OP an opportunity to resign (and this is an opportunity, because you really screwed up-nothing personal, just the facts) if, assuming that the OP was at least perceived as the aggressor and the other party is not being offered the same deal, part of the reason is to show the other party that the OP accepts responsibility. It would go a long way in smoothing things over and preventing adverse action from the punch-ee toward the company, but if that were expressed, may explain some of the OP’s opposition to doing it. If the OP feels he or she wasn’t in the wrong, the insinuation of an apology on top of being out of the job may be more than that person is willing to concede. Just a thought. This one is facinating! Updates and clarification please, OP!

  11. Rejected*

    Wow, it always amazes me how people lack self control. I personally would have saved myself the embarrassment and looking like even more of a fool by NOT writing to AAM.

    The only option the OP has is to gracefully resign!

    1. Jamie*

      I’m glad the OP wrote in.

      Reminds me that no matter how bad things can get at work, at least no one has punched me.


  12. Kerry*

    I am DYING to hear what the hell really happened. For me, “model employee” and “physical assault” do not mix, so I want to hear what the other dude did that made punching him seem like the thing to do.

    1. Jerseyknit*

      Seriously, me too. I can’t imagine feeling uninhibited enough to hit a coworker with all of my other coworkers standing around…or not feeling completely mortified. Gives you a whole new appreciation for awkward work parties! At least they won’t descend into drunken brawls.

    2. Kelly O*

      I’m kind of curious about what caused the fist to actually be thrown in the direction of the other person.

      (I would also wonder if any alcohol was involved. And what the definition of “model employee” is, since we are in such a defining society.)

  13. Heather*

    I’m curious–who hit first and how did the fight start? Not that it has any bearing on the outcome; I’m just interested in the back story.

    And yes, I also agree with the first commenter, pure gold!

  14. clobbered*

    “In general, don’t hit your coworkers”

    When AaM gets around to selling t-shirts, I vote this is one of them.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      When I worked at the home office of the world’s largest retailer, they had a list of “Office Rule” posted on every floor of the building, presumably because people were never taught how to behave in a business environment. This list included saying good morning to your co-workers, not taking food out of the fridge that wasn’t yours, etc. I guess they didn’t deem it necessary to add “Don’t punch your co-workers”, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see that on the list. It was a lot like junior high school there.

      1. That HR Girl*

        LOL – When I read over the handbook with new employees, I can’t believe I have to say “Don’t crack open a beer in your car in the parking lot”.

        If you can dream it, someone will do it! :)

    1. Anonymous*

      To make it better, in the tab it cuts off right after the w, so it looks like it says “I punched a cow”. hehehehe

  15. Anon in the UK*

    Yes, resign, or else they’ll fire you. Even in the UK, this would probably get you fired for gross misconduct.

    The only time I have seen this kind of thing without a firing is when a new trainee got hopelessly drunk and grabbed the breast of a female co-worker, who promptly slapped his face. She got a ‘we understand why you did it but don’t do it again’. He got an ear-bending about not grabbing at women and not getting so drunk as to do stupid things. Plus the helpful advice from one of his cohorts, ‘Dude. If you’d done that to either of my sisters they’d have knocked your teeth out’.

      1. Gayle Laakmann McDowell*

        Agreed! I’d fire the guy and would make sure the guy apologized to the woman. I would certainly never chastise the woman – he was physically / sexually aggressive towards her, and she responded in a fairly reasonable and appropriate way.

      2. Joey*

        Of course they tell her don’t do it again. Most sexual harassment policies don’t advocate slapping someone as the proper response. Is it okay morally, sure. But is that the response you want all employees to emulate, no.

        1. jmkenrick*

          I disagree. First of all, I’m not sure that anyone is saying companies should advocate slapping. Secondly, the groping is clearly the problem, so the company should address that and not imply that she was in the wrong for defending herself from unwanted grabbing. If so many employees are being groped that your company needs to establish a policy on how you can/can’t slap them in response, then you have a problem.

          Additionally, being unexpectedly grabbed (especially in a “personal” area) is the sort of action that causes people to slap others away without thinking. What exactly do you think people should do if others drunkenly grope them?

          1. Joey*

            I’m sorry but striking someone is never the ideal way to respond. What about forcefully saying stop, removing yourself from the area and/or pushing away the persons hand? Again I’m not defending the grabbing, but defending yourself doesn’t mean you have to hit someone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think having your breast grabbed by a coworker would be so shocking that the reaction to it would be totally spontaneous — there’s no time to think that kind of thing out, and it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’d plan for.

              1. Joey*

                I agree, but if it happened again I wouldnt want her to think elevating the situation by striking someone is the appropriate response. Besides that, what if no one else sees the breast grab and only sees her slap? That can easily be misinterpreted.

                1. Grace*

                  In most places grabbing a person’s private parts is felony sexual battery. If some drunken
                  bum did that to me, I’d elevate it to 9-1-1
                  and have him arrested!

              2. Under Stand*

                So, lets play devils advocate. Maybe the OP was grabbed in his privates and he acted instinctively by cleaning the clock of the grabber. Should he be fired or face any repercussions for doing something totally spontaneous? What if it was his wife who was grabbed? Or what if OP was a girl and she decked someone after grabbing her in a spot covered by her bathing suit? Does that make it OK for her to hit the guy? How about if instead of a punch it had been a Vera Wang to his groin? Does that make his reaction any less acceptable? Yes, such an action is instinctual, but that does not make it the correct action. There are always consequences for any action, even an instinctual one. Firing? I would hope not, but a reminder that hitting is not acceptable would be valid. I would suspect that is why the instigator was not fired in Anon’s story. Because it creates a double standard of acceptable behavior. It is OK for her to lay hands on him without permission but not OK for him to lay hands on her. I would expect someone to be screaming to the lawyer if he was fired for grabbing her but she was not fired for knocking him cross eyed.

                1. Grace*

                  Under Stand,
                  OK, you played Devil’s Advocate, I play Legal
                  Advocate. In most states (U.S.) intentionally touching a person’s private parts (even if the person has clothes on) is felony sexual battery.
                  The proper response? 9-1-1 and have the cops arrest him. No joke. No jive.

              3. jmkenrick*

                @Joey: I think that’s the issue. Drunken groping shouldn’t happen AT ALL (especially not in a work environment).

                I get that it would be stupid if the company’s policy actually suggested that you slap people – I just don’t think she has to be chastised. Unless it’s part of a pattern of her hitting people (which doesn’t sound like the case) she clearly just had a very natural reaction to an inappropriate behavior. And, do companies really need to have a specifically condoned response to being groped? I mean, really, how often does that happen at well-run organization?

                Basically, the way I see it: you won’t have a problem with people slapping employees who drunkenly grope, UNLESS you have employees who drunkenly grope. And if you have that, there’s your problem! So you can leave the grop-ee out of it.

                @UnderStand – I agree with you that there are double standards for behavior, and that’s wrong. People shouldn’t grope others without permission, and if they do, I think slapping is a pretty natural reaction that can happen without thinking. Regardless of gender, I don’t think the person defending themselves from unwanted grabbing should be punished.

                Also I have no idea what a Vera Wang to the groin is, but my mental image of someone throwing a wedding dress is quite amusing.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I have no idea what a Vera Wang to the groin is, but my mental image of someone throwing a wedding dress is quite amusing.

                I wondered that too! I was thinking, “Does Vera Wang have some bar brawl habit that I don’t know about?”

              5. arm2008*

                Sorry Joey, there are times that striking someone is a perfectly appropriate way to respond. Go ahead and try to convince the women in your life that they should just keep a stiff upper lip and take it (I feel bad for them), but I’m not buying it.

                I think a better response to someone groping your breast would be a painful joint lock with and dancing the perp around the room in pain screaming, but given that takes a certain amount of training and practice, a slap is a fine alternative.

            2. Long Time Admin*

              Joey, groping IS a form of sexual assault, albeit rather minor, unless you’re the one being groped.

              I would have slapped the jerk, then beat him to death with my purse.

          2. fposte*

            At least in much of the US (I realize that isn’t where this particular event happened), a slap in response can actually be charged as assault. It’s often not considered justifiable self-defense when there’s the walking-away option. (Sure, he can be charged too.) I suspect also that slapping a hand away would be treated differently than slapping a face in response–the latter it’s hard to make an argument for being instinctive.

            I imagine that’s the kind of thing that might lead a company to tell her not to do it again.

            1. cvmurrieta*

              Yeah, and I can see the press’ having a field day if a lady is arrested for slapping someone who grabbed her breast when she did not welcome it. Both the police department and that company would be thoroughly disgraced into today’s Twitterverse.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Seriously? She slapped away someone who was groping her without her permission and got chastised?

      What exactly is she supposed to to if it happens again? Try to reason with the hopelessly drunk trainee?

      1. FlyByNight*

        She was probably ‘supposed’ to scream and back away. If she’d knocked him down, and he’d struck his head while falling, and wound up in the hospital with brain damage, someone somewhere could play it as the company being liable. Plus however justified her actions may have been, you really don’t want to put violence on the books as your company’s suggested reaction to anything.

        That said, I’m not sure why they decided to officially chastise her. She could have broken his jaw and just gotten mild applause from me.

      2. JT*

        I can see chastising, but perhaps the sort of thing where the manager says “Oh, you’re not supposed to do that” but is grinning. Really, in a physical confrontation, if it is possible, people should withdraw, yell and report it.

  16. Anonymous*

    OMG. I guess I am more shocked that the OP’s boss is even allowing him to resign and not be straight up fired.

    I work at a place where the boss refused to fire an intern (with 3 weeks left to go on his internship) after he verbally assaulted a co-worker in the office (screaming at her about what a horrible person she was for asking him to clean up his kitchen mess–four seperate times!)

    It was obvious that the guy was completely unhinged from the get go but it took all the women in the company refusing to come in to the office until the guy was gone that ultimately forced the company to take action (and they still sent out a follow-up email praising his “hard work” and “contributions” to the company. This from a guy who literally used to take naps at his desk. “I feel so refreshed!” he’d tell us.)

  17. Dawn*

    We once had to fire two coworkers (a male and a female) who got into a physical fight. It ended with one trying to choke the other. Since we had no idea who started it, both of them were fired.

  18. Jennifer*

    Initially when I read the subject title, I was thinking, “Oh, it happened accidentally, like the OP intended to fist pump the air and hit someone instead. Or two people were trying to bump fists in greeting and one missed. This would be incredibly awkward in many ways, and I can see why the OP would want to write in.”

    I don’t think there’s any way around a resignation, though the above suggestion about supplementing that resignation with an apology is a good idea. The gossipy part of me still wants to know the circumstances.

    1. Tech Chic(k)*

      I recently slapped my boss…

      … lightly, on the hand, when he was making moves like he was going to steal poker chips from the dealer when she wasn’t looking. We were playing with funny money for small prizes, so it was no big breach of ethics and there’s been much good-natured teasing about it since. (I’m never going to lose the goody-two-shoes title. Not that I particularly mind it, integrity is a big part of my job!) Coincidentally, this was also at the company Christmas party.

    2. Morgane*

      “Or two people were trying to bump fists in greeting and one missed. This would be incredibly awkward in many ways, and I can see why the OP would want to write in.”

      That quote is comic gold, I am still laughing.

  19. Sean*

    I personally completely agree with both your response Alison, and the OP’s boss. My only hope though is that the other person involved in the fight is also being asked to resign. If not then I would say it’s completely unfair to ask one person to leave and not the other. But regardless I do hope the OP isn’t the only one let go from the job.

  20. Ellen M.*

    “In general, don’t hit your co-workers.”

    Fer cryin’ out loud, has it come to this? People have to be TOLD not to get into physical fights with their co-workers? I guess it has. smh

  21. krzystoff*

    whether it was a physical fight or verbal, and what the context was is going to be of little concern to the employer (unless they were personally involved or named), they still have the authority to fire this employee, in all probability, and resignation is probably a soft option for all parties.

    I have worked with abusive senior staff in the past, so I have little sympathy for this individual, but alcohol can do crazy things to the most sane individuals at times, especially young people.

    if the situation suited it, and the job was really valued, it would be worth discussing Mediation as a solution to the problem, and if alcohol was involved, they could undergo some form of therapy as an assurance to the employer of a will to change and make good the situation. expecting your boss to keep you on after a serious incident is unrealistic.

  22. Anonymous*

    I’m curious about what happened so I’m joining that crowd.

    Meanwhile, I’m curious about the other person involved. It was a fight, so that must mean that the other guy threw back a few punches too. Now depending on who threw the first punch, which I have the feeling is the OP, would that mean the defender is free from being fired or asked to resign?

    And what started the fight at the Christmas party? Has this altercation been brewing and has its boiling point at the party? OP, where are you? We need some answers for a context in which this happened. Of course that doesn’t negate you punching your coworker, but at the same time, in your mind, your coworker must have done something for you to believe he deserved it.

    1. Jerseyknit*

      Totally, I was speculating with another AAM-reader friend about what it could have been about (besides being drunk, which seems to be a given). Was someone saying nasty comments? Was one person cheating on the other’s wife? Did someone steal a parking spot, claim credit for another person’s work, play a mean prank, spill a drink on someone, pick the wrong song to request for the DJ? I wonder if our guesses or if the reality is stranger.

      Anyway, OP: details! Inquiring blog-readers want to know!

  23. Long Time Admin*

    I used to dream at night about slapping the living hell out of a co-worker. (Really – in my dream, we were in the parking lot and she mouthed off one time too many, and I just went at her. She was not a nice person, but the boss loved her and she got away with treating others very badly.) That’s how I knew it was time to find another job.

    Think it, DON’T DO IT!

    1. Anonymous*

      EVERYONE has had this dream.

      If you haven’t had this dream yourself, someone has probably had it about you.

  24. Anonymous_J*

    I’m joinging the “Oooh! What happened?” crowd, too. I really want to know what the story is.

    That said, REALLY?! This person had to ask what to do?

    *shakes head*

  25. Anonymous*

    I’m sure that everyone who reads this site daily went “What a …” when they read the title of this story. This is a hot one.

  26. Mike*

    Welcome to the adult world. You can never, never, ever hit someone at work, no matter what the circumstances. Even screaming fits will get you shown the door most likely, unless you are a doctor or some other high maintenance position.
    Lesson for all – no physical contact or acts or rage in the workplace.

  27. Anonymous*

    I have to give you a story here from the event I went to at the weekend: A lady at a Christmas Party (the name of the company being visible on the sign in Hotel reception as hiring the room) was dressed as a Christmas Tree and arrived to the event drunk (or at least partially inebriated) at around 8pm.

    Around 10pm approaches people from another event and snarls “where are the famous people at?”. Said people say that it is a closed event but Christmas Tree works her way into the hall anyway and is tolerated for a few minutes before loudly starting to insult the attendees and the bands playing at the event. Has to be removed by security.

    I don’t think she was fired (since it was private security that removed her and not hotel security so its a good chance the employer doesn’t even know it happened) but we seriously wanted her out of the hotel!

  28. Emily*

    I think you’re pretty much boned unless you clearly were defending yourself. If that’s the case I’m not sure what you should do.

  29. Anonymous*

    You got in a fight at a company sponsored party. Therefore you boss has every right to either fire you or ask you to resign. If he does fire you, the likelihood that you would be able to collect unemployment is slim. You were in an altercation with another employee at a work sponsored event. Most companies have a policy stating that termination may occur for that. I think you should resign and make an agreement that he will give you good recs.

  30. NicoleW*

    I think resignation is the only option if this was a physical fight that was not purely self-defense. I strongly advise also writing a carefully crafted letter to management. As a previous poster said, it can go a long way to your future references with the company.

    I can speak about the effectiveness of this firsthand. I’d been in the department for a little over a year. My manager, the VP of our department, and I were on site for an out-of-town project. We’d been putting in lots of hours and even our meals were with each other. By the last day on site, my introvert self was feeling pretty comfortable socially. We were joking around about something and I called the VP a curse word to his face. As soon as I said it I was mortified. We were having a good natured time, but it still crossed the line.
    Anyway, as soon as we finished work, I emailed my manager and the VP an apology. Wrote that I was mortified, it was a slip and wouldn’t happen again. I also explained that I knew it wasn’t appropriate and that I did understand the professional boundaries even when we were at meals or being social with coworkers. My bosses thanked me and never brought it up again. Until…my review a few months later. They actually mentioned this as a positive comment on my review, since I had handled a slip-up with so much grace and professionalism.

    So to the OP, even though you can’t take back a punch, you can clean up your reputation.

  31. Wayne Schofield*

    I once interviewed with a guy who was at a company for years and oddly just up and left one summer and started his own company. My references said don’t work for the guy…the questions they asked him…he is a tool and you don’t need him. I did some background check on the guy and found out he got so drunk at their party he mooned the owners wife on the 1st tee of their 4th of July golf outing. Needless to say the company asked him to resign after the Holiday and he did. I never worked for him and i’m glad to have made that decision. Point being…if you can’t control your alcohol then either don’t go, or don’t drink at company outings!

  32. Hell's Kitchen*

    Well ive had a similar situation where a dishwasher thought that i was being racist, by saying ” i need this done by 3 pm”. She grabbed a mixing bowl and hit me 3 times. She wasnt fired, i didn’t press charges

  33. girl*

    Im a lady and hit without intention my horrible mouth manipulative and paranoid colleague, im aware of my wrong doings, im so nervous waiting for the meeting with all other managers plus general manager, its called enquiry meeting.They will hear my part of the story and they will judge, for the past years, i have never commit any crime or assault, i have a good conduct. i just dont know why i blew up that day, i was provoked by this crazy colleague. :-(

  34. Chachi Maxim*

    In school they suspend you for fighting instead of kicking you out. It seems like a judgement call to fire you. I would suggest to the manager that you should get a second chance. Was alcohol involved? If so then definitely try to work things out. If they insist on you resigning, do it and move on. At least you got to punch somebody.

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