Simply called “the slap heard ‘round the world” or “the slap,” what happened during the 94th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27 has quickly entered the everlasting terminology of notorious cultural history. A quick recap – since we suspect you’ve already read this hundreds of times – Will Smith unexpectedly stormed the stage after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about his wife. Before a live television audience of millions, Smith delivered a loud slap to the face of Rock. Ouch for everyone, including the viewer!

Minutes later, Smith won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film “King Richard.” During his awkward acceptance speech, Smith did not apologize to Rock for his actions, though did so in a social media post the following day. Granted, “the slap” did not take place in the break room of your company, so dynamics should be considered.

Apparently after the slap, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences asked Smith to leave the ceremony and he refused. Attempting to avoid additional mortification during what had become a chaotic broadcast, the Academy did not initiate steps to remove Smith from the event. Truth be told, such an action could have been even uglier than what was witnessed. What lessons can work professionals take from this infamous episode?

Foremost, violence at the workplace is never justified. Questions to be considered include:

We certainly hope not. Unfortunately, workplace violence happens all too often, especially in our nation’s hospitals.

We are thankful to Mr. Rock for maintaining his cool though, we will be the first to admit, his joke was in poor taste. But words, no matter how offensive, should never be met with violence.

The slap might be a good opportunity to train your staff about underlying causes and potential red flags of workplace violence. Mental health at the workplace, especially during the COVID-19 era, can be as strained as physical health. Every HR director should use this opportunity to reassess their company’s programs. As we stated in a past blog, escalation can happen when you least expect it.

What about the Academy’s decision to not remove Smith from the premises? It’s easy to provide an opinion from our own easy chair. The broadcast involves months of preparation and hundreds of employees working in complicated unison. The three-plus hour program was nearing its conclusion. One suspects producers wanted to keep further embarrassment to a minimum. Though one of the hosts later stated, “Smith should have been escorted from the building instead of being allowed to stay.”

The Department of Justice has made clear within its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs that it fully expects corporate executives to be the keepers of Institutional Justice within an organization. Simply put, all employees must be treated fairly and equally, from the board room to the boiler room.

If violence occurs in the workplace, safety is always important. Not just for yourself and your coworkers, but for your violent employee. If you believe a situation can potentially be harmful, don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement. The employee must be escorted off the premises as quickly as possible. If you believe the violent person is not in a good frame of mind to safely drive, pay for an Uber.

While the slap was a shocking incident, it may also be a sign of the times. The past two years of pandemic isolation, not to mention the present strain of world events, has caused crime, “unruly passenger” incidents, and other types of strange behavior to soar. It never hurts to prepare if such an incident happens in your own workplace.

The information and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only and are based on current practice, industry related knowledge and business expertise. The information provided shall not be construed as legal advice, express or implied.