Assaulted at Work. Can I Get That Coworker Fired?

February 7, 2024by Lisa Allen

Getting assaulted at work should not be understated. You may face lost income, be left with physical limitations, or carry pain and suffering after the incident. The CDC reports that in 2020, 20,050 workers in the private sector experienced trauma from non-fatal workplace violence that required them to take days away from work.

  • Of those, 73% were female
  • 62% were between the ages of 25 and 54
  • 76% worked in healthcare or social services
  • 22% of those affected were away from work for 30 days or more because of workplace violence
  • 22% were away for 3-5 days

You deserve a work environment free from bodily harm when you clock in and out. If you were assaulted at work by another coworker, read further on and call a workers’ compensation attorney. The more you understand your worker rights, the higher the chance of a settlement that covers your losses.

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Defining Assault and Battery

The law defines assault as demonstrating the intent to cause harm, even when there is no contact between both parties. Assault can include faking a punch to threaten bodily harm, or raising your hand but not hitting the other person.

Battery occurs when a party uses force to harmfully and intentionally touch you without consent. The key difference between battery and an accident is that they intended to inflict harm; it wasn’t due to negligence. Even though the employer is liable for both, battery has its own specific charges according to federal law.

How Employers can Protect Employees in the Workplace

Workplace violence can occur on or off-site and can range from verbal threats to physical harm. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) says the best way to protect employees from workplace violence is to establish a zero-tolerance policy.

If an employer already has an accident prevention policy or program, consider voicing an anti-violence policy as well. The company must then inform its employees and management of the policy and must practice it. In addition, if claims are made, it’s vital that the company immediately investigate it.

Other actions any company can take to protect its employees include:

  1. Securing the workplace. Companies should consider installing surveillance equipment, extra lighting and security systems, requiring IDs and badges for entry into buildings, and alarm systems to keep non-employees out of employee spaces and to keep the business as secure as possible.
  2. Providing drop safes. To eliminate the danger of holding large amounts of cash, businesses should install drop safes and keep only minimal amounts of cash in registers.
  3. Ensure reliable communication. Providing employees with cell phones or hand-held alarms and devices can help them quickly and easily communicate in an emergency.
  4. Encourage working together. Using a buddy system and never entering or exiting a building when it feels unsafe is good practice, as is maintaining proper locks and company vehicles.

Even though OSHA shares these and other guidelines, there are currently no official standards from OSHA to prevent workplace violence. Even so, workplaces have a duty of care to prevent hazardous conditions in the workplace. OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires that employers:

“Provide their employees with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

OSHA

Employers aware of threats, intimidation or other indicators of workplace violence must make a workplace violence prevention program to protect their employees.

States Adopting Laws to Protect You From Being Assaulted at Work

The reason OSHA doesn’t have standards for workplace violence is because it can vary from profession-to-profession. Workplace violence in healthcare is much different in nature compared to those in the service industry.

Enacting legislation to address workplace violence can be difficult when the companies involved–and the working conditions–are so vastly different. Various states are doing just that, however. To date, 27 states have considered more than 100 bills that, in some way, address the broader idea of “workplace violence.”

California’s laws might be the most comprehensive, while states like Kansas and Maine have none at all.

Steps to Take if You’re Assaulted at Work

Even though calling a workers’ compensation attorney is key to securing your case, only do so when your immediate safety is ensured. Here are steps you should take if you got assaulted at work

  1. If you need medical attention, seek that first. Don’t be afraid to call 911 when your immediate safety is in danger.
  2. The next most important thing is to call the police. Even if the attack is over, making an accurate police report is important, and memories are freshest when they’re recent. When the police arrive, they will also speak to witnesses and gather physical evidence, if there is any.
  3. File a complaint with your employer. This shows you made an effort to cover your damages between you and the company, but you still suffered losses. Most human resource departments take assault and battery seriously, and will hear your side of the story when you report the situation.

Keep in mind the following steps while you’re calling a workers’ comp attorney. A lawyer can help you navigate whatever comes after the attack, whether that’s filing a case or defending yourself against accusations from your assailant.

If I’m Assaulted at Work, Can I Make My Employer Fire That Coworker?

Depending on your HR department’s policy and the state you work in, they’re more likely to suspend that coworker while the company conducts an investigation first; but then may eventually terminate the aggressor.

The bottom line is there is no guarantee that your employer will terminate your coworker and even if they do, it could take longer than feels comfortable.

Warning Signs That Indicate a Coworker May Become Violent

The Department of Labor has listed varying degrees of warning signs that could indicate a coworker has the potential to become violent. These signs apply to government workers as well as those in the private sector.

Early warning signs that a coworker might become violent include:

  • Intimidation and bullying
  • Being rude or disrespectful
  • Uncooperating or being verbally abusive
  • Being argumentative (with customers, coworkers and managers)
  • Refusing to obey policies and procedures
  • Sabotaging equipment and stealing for revenge
  • Verbally expressing a wish to hurt coworkers, customers and managers

Sending threatening notes and seeing themself as a victim are escalated signs that a coworker can become violent.

The most extreme signs that a coworker might be violent include

  • Suicidal threats
  • Physical outbursts
  • Destruction of property
  • Displays of rage and hostility
  • Use of weapons

If a coworker exhibits any of these signs, it’s smart to call 911 and get authorities involved.

If You Have Been Assaulted at Work, Consult a Workers’ Comp Attorney Today

Being prepared to meet with an attorney can make the process easier and faster. To prepare, gather as many documents as possible that show or explain what happened, your record as an employee, and your employer’s policies.

You have a limited time to file your workers’ comp claim. The statute of limitations depends on your state and case, but not submitting on time may get your claim barred from court.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online workers’ comp case evaluation now!

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Lisa Allen

Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.

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