Employer Responsibility for Assault and Battery in the Workplace
The workers' compensation system is designed to be the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. Employees who are hurt at work obtain benefits such as medical treatment and reimbursement for lost wages and they don't need to sue their employer to get them. Under this system, benefits are more certain and are easier to obtain. The employee doesn't need to show that the employer was negligent or that they, the employee, was without fault. In exchange for the ease and predictability of this system, the employee forfeits the right to sue their employer. There are some exceptions to this general rule, however, and some workplace incidents, such as attacks (assault and battery) can give rise to a lawsuit.
As a general rule, an injury which results from an attack at work which is committed by a third party (not the employer) will be covered by workers' compensation and therefore, the employee will not be able to sue. When workers' compensation is available, it is supposed to be the exclusive remedy for the employee. Therefore, an employee may not sue even if the employer negligently supervised their employees or if they failed to provide adequate security in the workplace. Most courts have not allowed such claims because they are worried about undermining the workers' compensation system, which is predicated on barring negligence claims.
Although the courts have been reluctant to allow employees to sue their employers, there are certain cases where they have felt that it is warranted. Most states will allow an employee to sue if their injury was the result of an intentional act by their employer. Again, this can vary from state to state, but often, if the employer intends to harm the employee then this takes the matter out of the realm of workers' compensation and opens up the employer to civil and criminal liability.
When a workplace assault is done by a fellow employee or some other third-party on the premises, workers' compensation is usually the remedy and the employer is generally not going to be personally liable. However, an employer could be liable if the employer intentionally created a workplace that was unsafe in regard to attacks by third-parties. In many cases, the employee will have the right to sue the third-party who assaulted them directly. The attacker can usually be sued for his or her intentional acts but not for the acts which were within the employers' scope of responsibilities.
An employee who is assaulted at work could have a number of options available to them depending on state law. Although workers' compensation is usually the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries it is well recognized that someone who has been the victim of a person's intentional act of harm should have other remedies available as well. Since there are often a variety of approaches to this problem a consultation with an attorney is recommended.
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