Workplace Violence

Backlight Workplace Violence

  • Millions of workers are injured annually through workplace violence
  • Perpetrators may be coworkers, outside intruders, customers, patient, or clients
  • Employers May be Liable for Violent Injuries Inflicted Upon Employees
  • Complex Interplay of Criminal Law, Civil Law, Administrative Law, and Civil Rights Law

According to OSHA, each year nearly 2 million American workers report being victims of workplace violence, and many more cases go unreported.  Factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites.   While all workers are at risk of workplace violence, greater risk arises from the following conditions: exchanging money with the public, working with volatile people, working alone, working in isolated locations, providing services and care, and working where alcohol is served. Working late at night or in areas with high crime rates are also risk factors. Especially high-risk occupations include store operators, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, corrections officers, and anyone working alone at night.

Many instances of workplace violence are perpetrated by outside parties including customers, clients, patrons, and criminal intruders intent on committing theft, robbery, and burglary. In some areas employees are victimized by shakedowns and extortion attempts run by criminal gangs.   Violent attacks are also perpetrated by violent coworkers. There are numerous factors causing co-worker violence, including racial prejudice, sexual assault, anger, drug use, intoxication, and even mental illness.

Anyone injured by workplace violence should seek safety immediately, contact law-enforcement (call 911), and get medical care as needed.  What follows is a brief (and by necessity incomplete) overview of legal issues that can arise from workplace violence.

Legal Liability of Employers:  The employer may have legal liability to an employee who is injured from workplace violence. This is a complex legal area that requires early involvement of legal counsel. The existence discrimination, hostile work environments, employer negligence, and direct attacks perpetrated by an owner or manager, could result in employer liability.  Attacks directed at the victim’s race, gender, national origin, religion, or other protected characteristics, may also create liability. Negligence in hiring violent employees, and negligence in failing to make premises safe could be potential reasons for making the employer liable to the employee for damages resulting from workplace violence.

Criminal Laws: Assault, battery, sexual assault, robbery and homicide occurring in the workplace will carry the same criminal penalties as crimes occurring outside of the workplace. Consequently a work site could become a crime scene with involvement of police, and emergency personnel.  Individual parties and witnesses of criminal activity at work may find themselves witnesses in court, and possibly even suspects, depending upon the facts of each incident.  Anyone who finds himself or herself involved in a criminal investigation or criminal prosecution is best advised to retain independent legal advice from a criminal law attorney. If an individual is injured as a result of workplace violence, and the perpetrator is prosecuted, the applicable criminal laws may require a convicted assailant to make restitution to the victim by paying for medical care and other losses.

Workers Compensation Claims: Depending upon the facts, and the laws of the jurisdiction, an injury resulting from an act of workplace violence may be considered an on-the-job injury which would entitle the employee to workers compensation benefits.

Legal Cases: What follows are excerpts of legal cases involving incidents of violence in the workplace:

  • Hostile Work Environment: Developing Law Hostile work environments that arise from discrimination often have legal remedies under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and similar laws. However there is a gap in the law when workplace hostility is based, not on discrimination, but on ordinary bullying. Workplace bullying is an increasingly recognized phenomena. A recent poll indicates that 25%.
  • Female Bailiff Alleging Rape by Manager May Pursue Title VII Claim against County Sheriff’s Office A female employee of Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office in Utah who worked as a jailor and later as a bailiff,  alleged rape and repeated sexual assaults by her manager, a Sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office. A lower court had dismissed her case but the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has ruled.
  • Department of Labor files Whistleblower Complaint for Employee fired for Reporting Workplace Violence The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against Duane Thomas Marine Construction LLC for terminating an employee who reported workplace violence. The suit lawsuit claims wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and equitable relief. The lawsuit alleges that the company committed workplace violence and created hostile working conditions.  The owner.