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When a coworker commits assault

It seemed like a typical day for most of the employees of the ABC Manufacturing company in Indiana, that is except for Buddy.  Buddy was reporting for his second shift at ABC after a fight earlier with his wife had put him on edge.  While approaching the time clock, he was greeted by a first shift worker named Gary who was about to clock out.  Gary received no response from Buddy but brushed his time card on his arm while going to punch out.

It was at this point that Buddy snapped yelling at Gary while pinning and eventually bending his back over the time clock they were both approaching.  This random, unprovoked attack left Gary with substantial injuries that caused him to miss a significant amount of work as well as amass a large amount of medical bills.

This attack was the center of a court case heard by the Indiana judicial system as Gary sought damages from the company to cover his time off work and medical bills as well as disability for 25% permanent impairment that he suffered due to chronic back problems.  He also filed a civil suit against Buddy which settled out of court.  After workers compensation awarded the claim amount to Gary, ABC filed an appeal arguing that the injuries were the result of horseplay between two coworkers that had gone awry banking on the policy that injuries sustained due to horseplay in the workplace are not subject to workers compensation payment.  The ruling was appealed by Gary after the original decision was overturned.

Is the employer responsible for violence or negligence committed by a coworker?

The Indians Supreme Court overturned the ruling dismissing the act as horseplay and described it as an unprovoked attack of workplace violence.  They also ruled that the injury occurred while the employee was technically on the job since he had not yet punched out.  The court awarded the victim full compensation for his injuries less the amount he received in his settlement from Buddy.

The court reinforced the requirement that employers protect their employees against violence or a hostile or intimidating workplace.  The court stated that the act of violence was committed as a result of an angry coworker, the act of violence occurred while the victim was on duty and was perpetrated by an employee of the company.  This makes the employer liable for any injuries that result from the altercation.

This also holds true for injuries due to the negligence of a co-worker which are protected under your company's workers compensation policy.  The co-worker is acting as a representative of the business and the company is responsible for their behavior and actions during the hours that they are engaged in employment at the company.

What classifies as workplace violence and how should employers prevent it?

Workplace violence can involve any physical violence, threatening behavior, intimidation, disruptive behavior, or any aggressive acts that threaten the safety or well-being of employees, customers, and even visitors.  While mild cases of workplace violence are not often reported in media outlets, it is a growing concern that many companies face.  

Since it is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees, it is important for them to take steps and set protocols to handle suspected incidents of workplace violence as well as provide training for its prevention.  Some things that a company can do to prevent or reduce the risk of workplace violence include:

  • Create an anti-harassment policy
  • Promote communication between coworkers and with the human resource staff
  • Establish a zero tolerance policy when it comes to workplace violence
  • Encourage employees to report incidents of intimidation, violence, or threats
  • Hold training sessions that discuss emergency response and how to handle workplace violence
  • Foster teamwork between coworkers

If it happens to you

You have the right to a safe workplace that protects you from co-worker violence and negligence and provides you with a hostile and harassment-free work environment.  If you have been a victim of violence in your workplace, you may be entitled to a settlement or workers compensation claim.  Contact legal counsel to know your rights and determine if you have a case for personal injury.  

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