Q: An employee of ours was belligerent during an after-work happy hour on a business trip in Brazil. He left the bar alone and was mugged and badly beaten.
We paid medical bills exceeding $30,000 so he could return to the U.S. He embarrassed our company and tarnished our good name. He hasn’t been disciplined for this incident or anything else.
Can we terminate an employee who was belligerent during an after-work happy hour?
A: Presuming your employee has at-will status and does not have an employment contract, you can terminate him for violating your company’s workplace violence policy (provided that you have such a policy and he signed off on it).
However, we caution against terminating this employee at this time.
Because this employee was injured, out on leave, and your company paid his medical bills, firing him now would not be your best course of action. If you did so, it could lead to a retaliation claim for taking leave due to a disability. In addition, he has been cleared to return to work and he has no previous reprimands or write-ups.
Moreover, if you were to terminate his employment now, just as he is ready to return to work, it would come across as very circumspect. It would be more prudent to permit him to return, give him a first and final warning about his conduct in Brazil, and go from there.
Bottom Line: Legally, you may be able to terminate the employee, but it may result in a retaliation claim. It’s better to give him a first and final warning about his conduct.