The general consensus is that a private person has no responsibility to protect other people from being assaulted at work by a customer. Nevertheless, this rule regarding criminal assault has several exceptions that might apply to the employee-employer relationship.
Exception 1: Special Relationship
A court could find a duty of care if a “special relationship” exists between the parties, along with foreseeable harm.
The courts have not agreed on whether an employee-employer relationship is a “special relationship.” Foreseeability of harm is determined by whether the employer knew or should have known facts that would reasonably suggest the risk of attack on the employee.
Exception 2: Employer’s Knowledge of Danger
A duty of care is owed to the employee if the employee is in looming danger and the employer knows about it.
Exception 3: Failure to Warn
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees if they fail to warn their employees about an unreasonable risk of harm involved in the job.
Exception 4: Contractually or Voluntarily Assume a Duty to Protect
A duty of care exists if the employer contractually or voluntarily takes on a duty to protect another from dangerous third-party acts.
What Else Must the Injured Employee Show?
If one of the preceding exclusions applies, the wounded employee must additionally demonstrate the following:
- The chance of an assault is not related to a broad geographic region or a certain kind of organization.
- The danger of injury is unique to the workers and is not shared by everyone in that particular place.
- The employee did not take the danger and did not contribute to their own damage.
Will Discipline Be Imposed?
One of the most difficult concerns that arise from a workplace assault is whether or not punishment will be imposed as a result of the occurrence.
Sadly, all too frequently, the person who has been assaulted is reprimanded alongside the offender. This is especially common if the assailant is a customer or client, in which case the company often removes the employee to avoid potential culpability.
Related: Negligent Hiring Laws
Unfortunately, the legal concerns of disciplinary or termination after a fight may be highly complicated and vary greatly from place to place.
Workers in unionized workplaces should get in touch with their union representatives right away. Workers in non-union jobs face a more difficult scenario since they may be reprimanded or fired regardless of whether the conflict was their fault.
Employees in “right-to-work” states may be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Consequently, many companies will fire employees participating in a fight, regardless of whether they delivered the initial punch.
Even if termination is not an option, other types of punishment might be difficult. In many circumstances, responsibility for the conflict will be assigned to the various parties involved.
In the absence of anything blatantly one-sided, such as a sexual assault or the unreasonable lash out of a mentally ill employee, most employers will likely assign part of the responsibility for the fight to both the attacker and the other person as a suspected instigator.
See also: Accidents at Work
Are There Any Liability Concerns?
Of course, there are liability concerns regarding a workplace brawl.
The perpetrator of the assault could have direct responsibility for the battery.
Any uninvited touching constitutes battery, and the damages arising from such battery (including medical expenditures for injuries sustained, lost pay due to missed work, property damage, and so on) serve as the foundation for any financial judgment.
In addition, the attacker may face criminal penalties for the violence. If the assault has a sexual component, it may be charged as rape or sexual battery, which carries a harsher criminal term and a larger monetary reward for bodily and psychological injury.
However, there is the potential for culpability among various organizations in addition to the actual perpetrator.
The most apparent target is the employer. Under several legal doctrines, it may be liable to the victim(s) of the assault.
Attacks at the workplace, for example, may subject the employer to responsibility under the premises liability theory, regardless of whether the assailant was an employee, a customer, or someone else.
Related: California Workplace Accident Lawyers
The employer may also be held liable if the attacker was an employee on the clock at the time of the attack, whether it occurred at work or not, thanks to a legal theory known as respondeat superior, which holds employers liable for the actions of their employees while acting in the course of their duties.
Suppose the employer knew or should have known about the attacker’s proclivity for violence and yet hired them.
In that case, the employer might face responsibility for negligent hiring or retention. This variety of legal theories of culpability tempts employers to remove all workers participating in a conflict to reduce extra risk.
How Much Money Can I Get if I Sue for a Coworker’s Assault?
Victims who file a workplace violence case against an abusive coworker or an employer may be entitled to obtain compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses
- psychological treatment
- Lost pay
- Pain and suffering
The victim may also be entitled to sue the employer for punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to penalize willful wrongdoers and dissuade others from doing the same or similar actions.
Is it Necessary for Me to Submit a Complaint to My Employer?
No. A victim is not required by law to disclose an attack to their employer to claim damages. However, it is typically an excellent idea.
The human resources departments of the majority of businesses take assault allegations seriously. In addition, refusing to file a complaint with an employer may question the accuser’s reliability.
However, not all businesses are large enough to have human resources divisions. Human resources departments also serve the company rather than the employee. The purpose of human resources is typically to settle disagreements swiftly and discreetly.
Some businesses are more devoted to conducting thorough investigations into employee abuse accusations than others. Some have even started engaging independent third-party investigators to make the process more fair and open.
What Should I Do If I Was Assaulted at Work by a Non-Employee?
The first thing to do after an assault is to contact the police. Even if the perpetrator has fled the scene, filing a proper police report will help you establish your rights in both criminal and civil actions.
Talk to any witnesses, obtain their perspective on what occurred, and gather their contact information in case you need to summon them as witnesses later.
Contact a personal injury attorney once you have left the site.
A lawyer can advise you on your legal rights in the circumstances, protect you from potential liabilities if the attacker claims you provoked the fight or wounded them while defending yourself, and walk you through the full legal procedure, from making your requests to collecting your final verdict.
Should I Seek an Attorney?
Cases involving workers’ compensation may be quite intricate and detailed. A skilled workers’ compensation lawyer can help you preserve your rights. An attorney can help you navigate the legal system and give you the finest possible service.
Use LegalMatch’s attorney-client matching system to find the right lawyer for your needs today.