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Who is Responsible for Workplace Violence?

Federal and state laws establish that employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment for employees and employers may be able to be held liable when workers are injured by workplace violence. Many work environments are prone to workplace aggression, and violence in the workplace has grown almost to an epidemic level.

Occupational Violence Is the 3rd Leading Cause of Death

Recent data on workplace violence reveals that:

  • It affects more than 2 million people yearly
  • Workplace violence causes close to 1000 deaths each year
  • Workplace violence is vastly underreported
  • Women are the most at risk because of many work in high-risk occupations such as social workers, nurses, and bank and shop workers.

Defining Workplace Violence

Workplace violence is an intentional act or threat of violence that reduces the actual or perceived security for employees and patrons. It often causes psychological or physical injuries, and sometimes workplace violence results in death. Occupational violence can happen outside the company premises and outside of regular working hours.

Although some injuries that are caused by workplace violence are obvious, like broken bones, gunshot wounds, or stab wounds, others are less conspicuous. A traumatizing event like assault can cause indirect injuries to victims that require long-term medical treatment. A victim of workplace violence, for example, can go into shock, which can cause permanent damage to the heart and other organs. When workplace violence leads to these types of injuries, victims can usually recover compensation by filing workers’ compensation claims and even personal injury lawsuits.

Workers' Compensation

Employers are responsible for safety in the workplace. Employees who are injured by violence at work may be eligible for worker's compensation. The no-fault insurance can help pay for medical bills and lost wages. Not all workplace violence injuries are covered by workers' compensation insurance, however. Generally, workers must be able to prove they were injured as a result of risks they experienced in the scope of employment to receive workers' compensation benefits.

If a violent worker with mental illness assaults a colleague who is performing his or her work duties, for instance, the injured worker doesn't need to establish negligence on the employer's part to be eligible for workers' compensation.

Personal Injury Liability

Although workers’ compensation is typically the exclusive remedy for people who are hurt on the job, employees who are injured by workplace violence may be able to sue their employers instead in some situations. When assault or verbal abuse injures a worker and the employer knew about the threat but failed to take action, hired the offender without conducting a background check, or failed to provide adequate security, the company can be held responsible for resulting injuries and deaths.

The employer might be found at fault for:

  • Inadequate security: Employers can be held responsible for violent acts that injure employees if they do not provide appropriate security to protect their workers.
  • Negligent hiring and retention: Employers who fail to conduct background checks or ignore red flags when hiring workers may be held liable if they hire someone who injures or kills an employee. Likewise, employers who are aware of workplace violence or a dangerous employee but keep the offending person on staff may be able to be held liable if their other employees are injured.
  • Negligent supervision: Employers who fail to take action when workplace violence occurs may be held liable for placing their employees at a continued risk of harm.

Liability through Regulatory and Criminal Law

Under federal and state laws on workplace safety and health, an employer is responsible for what befalls employees at the workplace. The case may be pursued by OSHA agents who will investigate the incident and may take legal action against the employer. Criminal charges may be brought against employers that knowingly failed to create a safe workplace.

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