Will Smith & Chris Rock | How should HR handle an Oscars-style fracas at work?

How should HR handle an Oscars-style fracas at work?

In its almost 94-year history, the iconic Oscars (also known as the Academy Awards) ceremony has been the pinnacle of celebrating the professional work of the world’s best film makers.

The annual event is usually filled with directors, producers and actors giving teary-eyed speeches, thanking those that defined their journeys to success.

However, the ceremony was shaken last night when, live on air, actor Will Smith appeared to smack Chris Rock following a controversial joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Just moments later, Smith was invited to collect an award for ‘Best Actor’ from the stage.

Whilst some may question the link between a movie star feud and the role of HR in the workplace, it’s important to note that this fracas took place at what was essentially an industry-specific professional awards ceremony.

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The attendees are invited by an industry-specific body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which has a strict code of conduct, set up in wake of Me Too movement, to mitigate situations akin to those seen on stage at this year’s event.

In attending, Smith was not only appearing in a professional capacity, but also expected to adhere to the rules and regulations of what is essentially a workplace. By acting in a threatening and violent way, Smith flouted these regulations.

Academy bosses were thrown into the difficult position of having to respond, similarly to the position in which HR would find itself were such an incident to occur within their own workplace.

How should HR respond?

Yet in the workplace, violence against others is disturbingly common; Health and Safety Executive (HSE) data states that in 2019/2020 there were 688,000 incidents of violence at work with 38% of those who were assaulted sustaining some level of injury. So, how should HR respond to such an issue?

Worryingly, according to a 2019 SHRM research report, 19% of HR professionals are unsure or don't know what to do when they witness or are involved in a workplace violence incident.

However, HSE guidance is clear that health and safety law applies to risks from violence, just as it does to other risks from work. Therefore, HR must act when it witnesses violence at work.

HSE states that a main piece of relevant legislation is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, under which employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.

In its report, entitled ‘Violence at work: A guide for employers’, HSE states that a full report into the incident is the first step of the process in rectifying the issue. It states that HR must collect an account of what happened from all involved, details of the victim(s), the assailant(s) and any witnesses; the outcome, including working time lost to both the individual(s) affected and to the organisation as a whole; and the details of the location of the incident.

In most cases, violence against a colleague is justifiable grounds for dismissal, however this is far from the end of the process – it’s also essential that HR learns from the event, and instils a zero-tolerance policy. It should also ensure that all workers are aware of the consequences of violence or intimidation within the workplace, with dismissal as a likely outcome.

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Comments (1)

  • Chris Ball
    Chris Ball
    Mon, 28 Mar 2022 1:55pm BST
    To keep the article balanced. Organisational leadership should also act if they or others are witness to discrimination or harassment. Whilst any form of violence is unacceptable, we should not expect a professional or their family to be the butt of someone else's joke (or inferred joke about a medical condition) in a professional environment.

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