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On Monday night, New York Knicks power forward and fashion-world darling Amar’e Stoudemire made a mess of the visiting team’s locker room in Miami. Following the Knicks’ defeat, Stoudemire punched through the glass encasement of a fire extinguisher. His hand suffered lacerations and he left the arena with his arm in a sling. He issued a perfunctory apology via Twitter, but the damage was done: After hand surgery he missed game three of the series and remains doubtful for game four. The Knicks organization, thus far, has issued no suspensions or fines.
Let’s say a regular corporate worker had acted in a similar fashion—and essentially attacked his or her office building in an emotional outburst. He or she would be fired on the spot, right? Well, not so fast.
“Most companies have policies that deal specifically with violence,” says Patricia Mathews, founder of Workplace Solution Pros, a human resources consultancy. “First of all, the employee would be sent out for a drug and alcohol test.” If the employee wasn’t revealed to be under the influence and didn’t have a history of violent behavior, there’s still a chance he or she would keep his or her job, according to Mathews.
“I don’t perceive that it would necessarily be a fire-able offense,” she says. “Since it was not directed at another employee, I would imagine that the punishment or discipline would not be as severe. Some companies might suspend the employee. But if it’s damage to a company’s property, the amount of money involved would determine whether it’s a terminable offense or not.”
Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist, a human resources consultant, and the author of The Blame Game, agrees that companies shouldn’t be so quick to lay someone off for certain types of aggressive behavior.
“Open-minded organizations try to think in larger terms: Is this an individual issue, or are we all feeling frustrated?” says Dattner, whose clients have included Bank of America (BAC), Pfizer (PFE), and Goodyear (GT). “You don’t want to make what psychologists call the ‘fundamental attribution error,’ which is to say: what was going on with Stoudemire was going on just because of him.”
Dattner says they should focus on the environment, too. “They shouldn’t necessarily say that it’s just him,” he says. “Maybe they should say it was partly him, it was partly the situation—and say we’re going to discipline him, and we’re going to support him.”
Workplace vandalism, on the other hand, can be a different story, Dattner says.
“In my line of work, there are different kinds of justice,” he says. One such type is retributive justice. “It’s when people feel that they’ve been exploited, unfairly blamed, or insufficiently credited by their organization, when people are unable to control their negative impulses and might act out in a counterproductive way.”
Some examples of retributive justice include chronic lateness, stealing office supplies, pirating software, surfing the Internet for hours at a time, or defacing property—which is rare. But honestly, wouldn’t someone who intentionally broke something in the office be canned?
“If it was a computer programmer who punched the glass wall in the server room, it would probably be different,” he says. “Destroying company property is not part of what we call ‘organizational citizenship behaviors.’”
In other words, he or she’d be fired.