Dangerous Horseplay
August 9, 2005 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Someone almost caused me a heart attack today. How do I bring it to the attention of the powers-that-be in an effective manner?

I was at work, on the phone with a customer, when a jerk (who also works there, and has a longer history and "higher" position in the company than I) walked up behind me and set off one of those "stun-gun" "taser" type devices directly behind me. It literally scared me half to death, I was out-of-control scared for about a minute. I'm still having chest pains and tremors one-and-a-half hours later. After calming down a bit, I apologized to the customer with a short explanation, and apologized to the co-worker for cursing him out. He apologized, but I doubt it was serious, for as I walked out the front door I heard him laughing and setting the damned thing off at my back.

My position is, right now, if they don't fire this clown, they are explicitly endorsing his behaviour. How do I effectively make sure this kind of *potentially lethal* horseplay never recurs?

His position, and I'm sure the company's (it's a small, privately held mom-and-pop sort of thing) will be that I'm making too much of a small deal. Am I? I certainly don't think so at the moment. What say Mefites?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total)
Calling for his immediate firing is making too much a big deal. If you call it to your manager's attention, and he's told that kind of thing cannot happen again, that should take care of the issue.
posted by xmutex at 12:11 PM on August 9, 2005

He should be fired. This is not a laughing matter. If he is not fired I'd consider hiring a lawyer.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:13 PM on August 9, 2005

Even if Taserjerk can do no wrong in the eyes of management, I would think that Mom and Pop would have a problem with injuries and/or lawsuits resulting from someone getting seriously hurt at the workplace. Work that angle of concern, perhaps?
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:18 PM on August 9, 2005

How do I effectively make sure this kind of potentially lethal horseplay never recurs?
Quit. If you don't have assurance from management that it won't happen again, then there's no assurance, especially since by that stage you have two asshats in the mix.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:25 PM on August 9, 2005

Do I understand you right, he hit you with a Taser? A taser is a dangerous weapon. Attacking you with it is potentially criminal assault. I would demand the owner of your business treat this very seriously, immediately. And document everything in writing.
posted by Nelson at 12:28 PM on August 9, 2005

If I'm understanding the poster correct, the guy didn't touch him/her w/ the taser, he just crackled it behind her. Which makes it very hard for me to believe anon is actually having real chest pains.

But, if he did touch anon w/ the taser, that's pretty much assault.
posted by xmutex at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2005

Plus he did it while your on the phone with a customer, indicating that he obviously wanted a reaction that would screw up your sale/contact/whatever, I say confront the jerk and make it clear you don't want him messing up your work.
posted by cyphill at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2005

Those can actually kill people. Check your laws but I'd guess it's actually criminal to use one against someone in a non-self defense situation. This should be brought to management and he should be fired. You may also want to contact the police and either press charges or have them document the incident. Also, you might consider getting a lawyer or at least talking to one.
posted by 6550 at 12:36 PM on August 9, 2005

Although I work in a corporate environment, where there are explicit rules for everything, I would be fired simply for bringing a taser to work. I wonder if your workplace has a rule in place regarding weapons? Maybe you could look into that angle - check any workplace handbook you might have. If nothing else, I would consider the act of setting a taser off anywhere near me to be threatening me with a deadly weapon. I would also file a police report.
posted by peep at 12:41 PM on August 9, 2005

The OP says the person set it off from behind while he/she was on the phone (i.e. they weren't attacked). Tasers make a loud cracking noise when they're activated.

That being said, I think you're overreacting. A loud noise behind you isn't life threatening. What do you do during a thunderstorm? Would it of been different if he came up behind you and clapped his hands together.

It sounds like you and the taser-ier have a history... You should be really careful when using prejorative terms (clown, jerk, whatever) when you're talking to the boss. People notice those things and it only undermines your point.

By all means bring it up with management, your coworker was being unprofessional, but I would leave out the chest pains bit. I'm guessing you're being targeted for pranks because you give a big reaction. You're just playing into their hands if you go to the boss and say, "Co-worker's name almost killed me! I want him fired!".
posted by srburns at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2005

Would the poster be overreacting if the coworker had, say, cycled a pump shotgun or cocked a revolver? Why is firing off a tazer behind his/her back different, simply because it is less lethal? An unloaded gun used in a bank is still armed robbery. Further, you do not need to actually be assaulted to be in a hostile working environment.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2005

Why the hell does this bozo have a Taser at work anyway?!? If I were this person's boss, I'd sure what to know if he was bringing weapons to work!

Anonymous, I would make a formal complaint immediately.
posted by Sully6 at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2005

Agree that emphasing your emotional/physical reaction will get you nowhere with the boss. (I don't agree that you overreacted, necessarily, having had palpatations after killing a particularly loathesome roach the other day, but showing signs of "weakness" on the playground, so to speak, is not a winning strategy.)

Concentrate on the unprofessional behavior and the fact that you're there to work, not suffer gotcha! gags by Mr. Too-Much-Time-On-His-Hands. If it were me, I'd go in with an attitude more along the lines of "don't have time for this BS" than "I'm mad as hell."
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on August 9, 2005

Right, this sounds like threatening behavior. I can tell you right now if anyone did something like that I'd be out the door. Just how is setting off a potentially lethal weapon at someone's back not threatening? If someone made a habit of throwing darts or shooting arrows behind me I'd be pretty damned scared, and rightly so. You're not overreacting to feel threatened. Sure he didn't mean to spear you with the arrows, but that doesn't mean he could make a mistake. Same situation here - he could have hit you with the thing and ... for that matter why is it even at work???

That said, you still need to be cautious how you frame this to management. I agree that unecessary pejoratives or explicatives will make you look bad. Be as calm as possible while talking with them about it, but be clear that this sort of thing is totally unacceptable.
posted by lorrer at 1:33 PM on August 9, 2005

Oh, and quietly file a formal report with HR regarding your concerns about his unprofessional behavior in front of clients. Without a paper trail, the guy will never get a reprimand.
posted by desuetude at 1:36 PM on August 9, 2005

And keep us posted!
posted by agregoli at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2005

Small mom and pops work very differently than large companies. At a large company, this bozo would be toast whether he set the thing off near you or not, just for bringing it in. At a mom and pop, they may actually laugh about it.

But you should communicate. Your best bet is to go to the 'mom or pop' and say something like 'do you think its a good thing this guy brings in a tazer and sets it off?' Let them think about the consequences.

Or 'its a problem for me and he's not taking it seriously, so I'm bringing it up to you.'

Avoid asking to have him fired.
posted by brucec at 1:55 PM on August 9, 2005

For clarity, I think he's referring simply to a stungun, the ones that connect between two metal points. Tasers are the ones that have little hooks that shoot out and grab you and shock you, and are much more dangerous. Not that I think a stungun is appropriate at work by any means, but Tasers are extremely hardcore. If it was a Taser, they are illegal to carry without a permit in some states. You might want to check that out.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2005

You might also couch your concerns to the boss in terms of their business losses. 'I was on the phone with a client when X did Y, and it resulted in Z. I was very lucky to hold onto the sale / not lose the client completely, but I feel that it has made us look unprofessional. This sort of behaviour is damaging to the business, what can we do to stop it?'
posted by jacquilynne at 2:34 PM on August 9, 2005

You should make it clear to management that you intend to sue those responsible for assault (or negligence in allowing assult) for this if you don't have your demands met.

[ This *is* assault, even if you weren't touched, at least in Canada. Any threat of physical violence, real or implied, is construed as simple assault here. A friend of mine was charged with it for just shaking his fist angrily at someone... yes, that's what was in the tesimony of the other party. ]

I wouldn't tell them to fire the guy. I would expect he needs to take some vacation time.

If you aren't immediately satisfied, write the police report and maybe try one more time. If that doesn't get you anywhere, the courts *will*. I assure you.

This is serious, nobody at work should ever have to put up with assault. In fact, I commend you for being so angry. Too many people put up with boorish bullshit like this in the name of "being a man". That's bullshit, real men have no need to live in fear of being assaulted while they are hard at work.
posted by shepd at 2:35 PM on August 9, 2005

Our anonymous questioner doesn't make it clear if he or she was actually "shot" with the stun gun or only nearly so. Regardless, this is something to take with heavy-handed seriousness.

In some locations, there are strict laws against "menacing" others with weapons. There's a fair chance this cackling asshole has broken the law, and if so you'd be within your rights to press charges.

My own reaction would likely be considerably more violent, but I take a very crude and direct approach when it comes to matters of personal safety. Violent responses are not for everyone.
posted by majick at 2:40 PM on August 9, 2005

Yeah -- I'd bring it to the attention of your boss. If I were the boss, my reaction would basically be "YOU. FIRED. NOW. GET OUT." ("You" being the tazer fool, not anon, of course.) But yeah -- if your boss doesn't fire him, I'd go to your lawyer. That is unacceptable. Even if he didn't actually hit you with it (that is a little unclear) or even intended, it's NOT something to mess around with; that man is an immature idiot.

As to whether or not you should demand his resignation -- well, I'd think it'd be obvious from a boss-point-of-view that bring a taser into work and playing with it is basically saying "Hello, I would like to lose my job today!" loudly and clearly. But that's just me.

It would take some serious explaining for him to even get me to consider not immediately firing him with no letter of recommendation or anything and not mentioning the incident whenever called w/r/t his future potential employers. I can't even think of a situation where that's even marginally OK. The best I can think of is if it wasn't actually a Tazer/Stun-Gun, but some sort of harmless toy. In which case, he'd probably just be fired, but maybe not with me mentioning it to prospective employers.

So, yeah -- too bad it's anonymous; I'd like to know how this turns out, and whether or not the Fool got fired. And, I don't think you're making too much out of a small deal at all. This seems squarely in the "if it's not dealt with immediately, get thee to a lawyer" realm. (And I'm surprised you apologized for cursing him out. I wouldn't have. If I even said ANYTHING to him, it would have been giving him double barrels again.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:37 PM on August 9, 2005

Just to nit-pick, in case you went so far as to consider legal action. In the US, if that's where you are, assault and battery are two different crimes. Assault is when someone does something to put you in a reasonable fear of being battered (which is legalese for 'touched in a in-appropriate and/or non-consensual way'). Battery is the crime of actually toching someone without consent in a way that results in harm.

Simply discharging the stun gun behind you to make the noise is enough, IMO, to file a lawsuit for assault. If he touched you with the device (which, from your description, doesn't seemed to have happened), that's battery, plain and simple. Actually, if he touched you with the gun, you should file a criminal complaint.

I'm not suggesting you go the legal route, but in case you are, FYI.
posted by thewittyname at 3:44 PM on August 9, 2005

Call HR, hope they have some professionalism. Stand into the checks, life is full of hard knocks.
posted by sled at 4:17 PM on August 9, 2005

In some states, stun guns (even the hand-held ones Juliet B.) wrote about) are regulated just like handguns. You have to have a permit to possess one. If you live in one of those states, the police will be interested in your story, to the discomfort of zapboy. That's even if he does have a permit. You don't get to wave your pistol around just because they gave you paper saying you can carry it.

I am no lawyer, but this smells like a major legal headache for mom & pop. If they aren't smart enough to scent that, your lawyer ought to be able to rub their noses in it.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:44 PM on August 9, 2005

Jeez. Not that I haven't had crappy situations at work before, but this takes the cake. I would say that going to the bosses is an excellent idea, but I would REALLY advise against playing up the potential-loss-of-customer angle. Basically, that's saying that what he did was ok, just bad timing on his part. If the bosses don't take it as seriously as you (and they should, if not moreso), quit. Don't threaten, just do it. It's not one of those decisions that you'll regret, I would imagine.
Good luck!
posted by hoborg at 4:45 PM on August 9, 2005

apologized to the co-worker for cursing him out. He apologized, but I doubt it was serious, for as I walked out the front door I heard him laughing and setting the damned thing off at my back.
rankly I think you are too nice. You should have kicked him in the balls and then apologized saying "taser sounds just make me react that way." He is a bully. Stand your ground and let him have it . If you are a male, you need to take care of business. If you are a female, just puncture his male ego two or three times
posted by Shalerman at 4:49 PM on August 9, 2005

Go to whoever does HR and make a formal complaint, and request a formal response and course of action. Be calm, and state your experience in factual terms, and insist that you have the right to be safe from threats at work. You may want to put it in a letter. The jerk's behavior is quite wrong, but you may be the one who ends up leaving, so get out your resume.
posted by theora55 at 4:59 PM on August 9, 2005

Wait a second. What about our poster's chest pains? If the poster was that frightened, he (I'll just assume "he" for the ease of writing) could have had a bit of a heart attack. What would the boss or the coworker have done if he had fallen over and needed medical assistance as a result of this.

Anonymous, if you're still having chest pains, an hour and a half later, please go to urgent care at the least. If your heart is involved, Taserguy may have more on his hands than just being an ass who hopefully will be looking for new employment.

Keep the medical records as part of your documentation on the event.
posted by onhazier at 5:21 PM on August 9, 2005

I do not think this is a small deal.

The last time a co-worker goosed me from behind, I reflexively punched the little jerk in the stomach. I feel no guilt, except for not stepping in when he was taunting a straight-laced Hindu colleague about his sex life.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:57 PM on August 9, 2005

you need to tell your boss about this, period ... it's outrageously unacceptable behavior

i can't believe you apologized to the guy for cussing him out
posted by pyramid termite at 9:43 PM on August 9, 2005

But, if he did touch anon w/ the taser, that's pretty much assault.

Actually, assault is a "threat"; battery is the part that requires touching. I think the guy did commit assault. I would have told the management that I would be pressing charges and going to the news with it if they didn't fire his ass.
posted by Doohickie at 11:06 PM on August 9, 2005

Go to the hospital, get your chest checked. Get the bill. The fact you had to pay in time/money to get checked provides grounds to sue the jerk and/or your employer. You have to incur a cost in order to sue.

Anything that causes a person to loose their cool at work is highly inappropriate, very unprofessional.
posted by Goofyy at 1:42 AM on August 10, 2005

Do you always react so violently to loud noises, or is there a reason why the specific sound of a stun gun would be recognized by you and thus scare you for what the sound represents (possible harm) as oppose to just a loud noise.
posted by crewshell at 1:46 AM on August 10, 2005

Regardless of the weapon, its actual contact, etc:

First, go to the boss (or reasonable facsimile thereof, manager, team leader, whatever). Explain the situation and explain that you have no qualms about going to the police (for a start, you have every right to) but in this instance you are not, for the time being, because you have every expectation this can be sorted without their help. This says that you are not only not intimidated by the perpetrator's behaviour, but that you are on the side of the company, and you expect the company to be on yours, as there is really no excuse for this.

If they don't at least try to sort things out, by all means make a statement to the police. As someone said upthread, firing a gun in a workplace would be looked on equally unfavourably.

Yes, I'm British. Complaining about stuff correctly is genetic.
posted by Sparx at 2:36 AM on August 10, 2005

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