A workplace brawl

Q: Last week there was a brawl in our lunch room at work.
Two guys started arguing and then pushing began. Then shouting and
fists. These two guys have only worked for our company for a short
time. HR is involved and interviewing everyone asking what we saw in
the lunch room that day. The two guys are now telling everyone to “play
dumb” and not to mention them by name. I was just eating my lunch and
reading the paper. I don’t want to get involved. I just want to put my
head down and collect my paycheck. What should I do?

A: Oh no. This sounds like a horrible situation. A horrible
situation which has turned into an awkward situation, because co-workers
like you are now being questioned about what occurred. A lunch room
should be a place to relax, enjoy a bite to eat, check phone messages
and chat with friends.

You should certainly be honest when HR asks you what you observed
that day. Not only is HR looking to make sure that they have an
accurate understanding of what happened that day, but they are also need
to make sure that the workplace is safe. No one should have to come to
work with the fear of being physically threatened. It is frightening
to think that an employee would have to be concerned about their
physical safety in this manner. Since these two men are new employees
that may be even more concerning. In many organizations, a physical
confrontation warrants an immediate termination. HR though may be
collecting facts before any action is taken. Please be honest and
forthright with what you saw. I would hate to hear about an escalated
follow-up confrontation.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.