Can a fist fight be justified if I have been harassed at work?

This guy I work with keeps calling me “Straight Dave” in front of other people. I find it disrespectful, humiliating, and it mocks my sexuality. I’m not gay, however, I was molested as a child so it causes me anxiety and conjures terrible memories and feelings. Part of me doesn’t want to be the guy that can’t take a joke and runs to HR. The other part of me wants to fight the guy. I’ve told him to stop. Once he asked me in the men’s room if I was straight. I have a good life. I don’t want to lose my job or go to jail. If I document my complaints with HR, could I get away with fighting him?

Asked on March 15, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Florida

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The answer is about as strong or resounding a "No" as if possible--do NOT do this:

1) Even if you had an employment contract, attacking or fighting with another employee is always grounds to be fired for cause. If you don't have a contract, you are an employee at will and again could be terminated on the spot for this. In either event, since it's a for-cause firing, you wouldn't get unemployment.

2) Our legal system does NOT recognize the concept of "fighting words." If you initiate a fight, you might be arrested and charged with assault; words, no matter how hurtful, never give you the right to threaten or attack another.

3) If you fight this other person and injure him, he could sue you for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.

In short, you could lose your job, go to jail, and be sued. If you're going to document the complaints to HR, do this right way: complain to HR about his harassment and let HR deal with it. That's what they are there for.


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