False imprisonment in the workplace is a workplace tort that occurs when a manager or supervisor detains a worker in a way that is unreasonable, which results in harm to the worker. One example would be if an employer uses a threat of force in order to detain a worker for longer than is normally asked of them.
The majority of instances of false imprisonment in the workplace involve a supervisor interrogating an employee regarding a conflict or dispute. Because of these issues, employers have to exercise caution any time they detain a worker.
This is especially true if the detention is not part of the worker’s normal routine. An employer is permitted to reasonably detain an employee in order to investigate a dispute or some type of misconduct that occurred in the workplace.
The detention, however, will become illegal if the period of questioning is unreasonably long or if the employee is confined using threats or force.
What Do I Need to Prove to Sue for False Imprisonment in the Workplace?
In order to successfully sue for false imprisonment, the plaintiff must show the following elements of wrongful imprisonment:
- They were detained, confined, or restrained against their will by their employer or in their workplace;
- Their confinement was unlawful or illegal; and
- They believed that they were being detained, meaning that they did not feel as though they were free to leave at any point during the interrogation.
An employer may be held liable for false imprisonment if a worker was detained for an unreasonable amount of time or if they were confined in an unlawful manner.
How Do I Know if I Was Confined in a Way That Was Illegal or Unlawful?
In order for a confinement to be illegal or unlawful, the plaintiff must have been aware of the confinement. For example, if the plaintiff was asleep and was not aware of the situation, the defendant would typically not be found liable for false imprisonment.
In some states, there is also a requirement that the plaintiff did not have a reasonable means of escape in order for false imprisonment to have occurred. It is also important to note that an act of omission may also form the basis of a false imprisonment claim.
For example, this may occur if an individual intentionally fails to unlock a door when they know someone else is trapped inside. There are several examples of ways in which an individual may be confined against their will or deprived of their freedom to move, including, but not limited to:
- An individual locking someone else in a room without their permission;
- An individual holding someone down in such a way that they cannot move or get away;
- Grabbing another individual;
- Detaining an individual for a period of time that is considered to be beyond the necessary amount of time;
- A security guard detaining an individual for an unreasonable amount of time; and
- Being unreasonably detained by an employer.
How Do I Prove That My Detention Was Unreasonable?
An employer may be held liable for false imprisonment if a worker was detained for an unreasonable amount of time or if they were confined in an unlawful manner. When determining whether a worker was falsely imprisoned by their employer, the court will generally examine the following factors:
- Whether the worker was detained for what the court considered to be a substantial amount of time;
- Whether that period of detention was against the worker’s will;
- Whether the worker was detained or confined by the use of force or the threat of force; and
- That the worker’s questioning was not within the scope of their everyday employment.
What Are Some Legal Penalties Associated With False Imprisonment in the Workplace?
There are several legal consequences that may be associated with false imprisonment in the workplace. In general, monetary compensation awards are ordered that are intended to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries or suffering that they experienced as a result of their confinement.
In addition, the defendant may be required to pay the medical bills and other court costs of the plaintiff. If the injuries the plaintiff suffered caused them to miss work, they may be able to collect lost wages for their missed time at work.
In egregious cases, an employer may also face criminal charges in addition to the civil liability they incur.
Are There Any Defenses to False Imprisonment in the Workplace?
Typically, in a false imprisonment case, the standard defenses will apply. One of the main defenses that may be available is if the defendant can show that the plaintiff is not able to prove one of the elements of false imprisonment.
For example, if the defendant can show that the plaintiff consented to the detention or if the defendant has the legal authority to detain them. Examples of other legal defenses that may be available to a defendant if a false imprisonment in the workplace claim include:
- Legal arrest: If the defendant is an individual such as a law enforcement officer, they may have had legal authority such as a warrant or probable cause to confine individual;
- Shopkeeper’s privilege: Store owners or agents of store owners, for example, security guards, may use a reasonable amount of force in order to detain a suspected thief for a reasonable amount of time in order to investigate the theft or attempted theft;
- The store owner must have a reasonable belief that the individual stole or was attempting to steal their property before legally detaining them;
- Restraining a minor: If the defendant had the permission of the confined minor’s parent or legal guardian and the amount of restraint is considered to be reasonable, it may be a defense;
- It is important to note that this defense may not be available in every state.
What Else Should I Know About False Imprisonment in General?
False imprisonment is both a tort and a criminal offense. As a criminal offense, a conviction for false imprisonment may result in considerable criminal fines in addition to the possibility of a jail sentence or a combination of both.
Depending on the nature of the false imprisonment, it may even be categorized as a felony. Civil court cases, on the other hand, typically involve paying damages.
In a civil court, being found liable for false imprisonment in the workplace may result in the defendant being ordered to pay a substantial amount of money to the defendant. The defendant may also be prosecuted criminally and sued civilly at the same time.
Other similar legal crimes and torts include:
- False arrest;
- Abuse of process;
- Malicious prosecution; and
- Criminal confinement;
- Criminal confinement of a child may include actions that endanger the child, for example, leaving them in a locked car alone.
Do I Need an Attorney for My False Imprisonment Issues?
If you believe you have been a victim of false imprisonment in the workplace, it is important to consult with a workplace lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney can review the facts of your case, help determine if false imprisonment did occur, and advise you whether you can pursue a civil claim, criminal charges, or both.
Your attorney will also advise you on the laws of your specific state regarding false imprisonment in the workplace and the possible remedies you may be able to obtain. If you have to appear in court, your lawyer will appear with you and ensure your rights are protected throughout the process.
If you are an employer who has been accused of false imprisonment in the workplace, it is essential to consult with an attorney, as the consequences may be severe. Your lawyer can advise you of any defenses that may be available and represent you during any court appearances.