Workplace Violence and Workers’ Compensation

Posted on Thursday, August 19th, 2021 at 4:47 pm    

Some jobs involve a strong risk of violence. Police officers, security guards, and law enforcement personnel are at constant risk of being assaulted, attacked, or even shot at. Hospital workers are often at risk of assaults by patients who have mental health problems and we’ve represented many in this situation.  Taxi drivers and rideshare drivers may be subject to violence. Store Clerks are often robbed at gunpoint. In any type of job, a worker may become violent or be exposed to violence for a variety of reasons. Many incidents of workplace violence are reported each year. Many incidents go unreported.

In the worst cases, an employee is killed while doing his or her job. Workplace violence includes the following types of conduct, among many others:

  • A physical assault including striking, hitting, punching, pushing, or any attack involving force. Assaults often involve just the use of fists or hands. In many cases though, the attacker may also use a weapon such as a gun, a club, a knife, or any physical object.
  • Sexual assaults including rape
  • Sexual harassment
  • Creating a hostage situation
  • Robbery
  • Mass shootings, such as the tragic incident in Building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on May 31, 2019, from which we have represented clients.

Some businesses such as banks, retail stores, or any place where there is likely to be money are generally more prone to attacks.

Violence can occur in the building, in a parking lot, or could even spill over to deliveries made by employees.

Are workers entitled to workers’ compensation benefits caused by violence?

Generally, employees who are attacked at work can and should claim work injury benefits for all their physical and emotional injuries. The main exceptions are when the victim is the person who initiates the violence or if the violence that occurs bears no relationship to the business of the employer.  If an employee starts a fight with another worker and the other worker punches the employee who started the fight, the employee who started the fight may not be able to claim worker’s compensation benefits.

Generally, employees do not need to prove that the employer’s security was lax or negligent. There is no requirement to prove negligence in workers’ compensation cases. The victims of an act of violence can claim work injury benefits – except in two broad circumstances: If the claimant initiated the violence or if the violence did not “arise out of” something connected to the injured workers’ employment.

For instance, if there was an ongoing domestic dispute between a co-worker and his or her spouse and the spouse came into the claimant’s place of employment and shot the co-worker and/or other co-workers, this would not “arise out of” the employment. Rather, it arose out of an ongoing domestic dispute between two individuals.

On the other hand, if someone came in and started complaining about the level of service or something specific related to his or her bill, and got angry and injured others violently as a result of an argument or discussion related to those issues, that would “arise out of” work and likely be compensable.

In addition, although we ended up settling our Virginia Beach Shooting cases, we argued that the investigation of the shooting by groups hired by the City revealed that the shooter (who was a co-worker of the victims) was most likely motivated by perceived grievances in relation to his lack of promotion and other issues relating to his performance at work. Accordingly, it would be hard to argue that the Virginia Beach shootings did not “arise out of” employment.

What are the workers’ compensation benefits for acts of violence?

Employees who are physically injured should seek immediate treatment at an emergency room or with their family doctor. Victims of violence may require surgery if any weapons were used, if they broke any bones, if they have any internal bleeding, or for other reasons. Victims of violence often need to treat with specialists such as orthopedic doctors and pain management doctors. Some victims of violence may require plastic surgery for any scars or disfigurement.

Victims of violence – whether they were physically attacked or just shocked or frightened – may also need to treat with psychologists or other mental health professionals. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a frequent illness affecting those who are witnesses to extreme violence such as workplace shootings.

Victims of violence whose injuries arose out of employment are entitled to claim workers’ compensation benefits including:

  • Payment of all reasonably necessary medical bills. These bills include the cost of any surgeries, any ER care, and any treatment with specialists. The medical bills also include psychological care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other types of therapy. The cost of any medical devices and all your medications should also be covered.
  • Temporary Total Disability. Victims of violence are entitled to a percentage (generally, 2/3rds of their average weekly wages) for as long as they can’t work due to their injuries for up to 500 weeks.
  • Permanent and Total Disability. Violence victims who have certain specific permanent injuries, which include the loss of at least two limbs, eyesight,  severe brain injury or severe burns,  which injuries make it impossible for the injured worker  to work anywhere on a permanent basis would be entitled to lifetime benefits at 2/3rds of their average weekly wage.
  • Permanent Partial Impairment. If the injured worker has suffered permanent impairment in any specific body parts, and returns to work, he or she may still be entitled to permanent partial impairment benefits in relation to the injured body part, such as an arm, leg, hand, or wrist.

What steps can an employer take to prevent or reduce the risk of workplace violence?

Part of the answer depends on the type of job the employee does. Police officers, especially officers who patrol their community, will always have some risk. Police departments generally train their officers to handle certain types of conflicts such as domestic conflicts or conflicts that might arise when an officer stops a vehicle. Some equipment can help protect the officer’s life.  A recent statute in Virginia has made it much easier for police officers and firefighters to claim the psychological injury of PTSD and obtain workers compensation benefits  due to their exposure to certain a tragic events of violence and death, which the statute refers to as a “qualifying event.”

Hospitals need to have procedures in place to recognize patients who may have mental health problems, may become violent due to their medications, and may have friends or family who may be violent.

Some of the general steps employers should consider to help reduce the risk of violence include:

  • Background checks. Employers should conduct background checks for new hires to examine if the applicant has any record of violence or threats of violence. Employers should also check with the applicant’s prior employers to see if there are any outstanding violence concerns.
  • Zero-tolerance. Many employers let their workers know from the start that if any employee engages in any type of violence that there will be an immediate disciplinary review which may result in immediate termination.
  • Supervision. Employers and management should have procedures in place to identify any risks of violence and how to respond to those risks to protect their workers. Often, early intervention can prevent conflicts from escalating into violence. Some of these red flags include:
    • Any threats
    • Illogical actions
    • Stalking
    • Expressions indicating a worker is thinking about revenge
  • Training. Employees should be trained how to handle conflict with other employees, contractors and with the public. Employees should understand how to recognize conflicts, how conflicts can escalate into threats and violence, and how to calm a potentially dangerous conflict. Employees should be encouraged to report threats or concerns to management so management can decide what steps to take.
  • Personal safeguards. If a business or organization is aware of a threat, such as a disgruntled former employer, the business or organization should invalidate any open employee IDs and consider changing the locks or changing the ways the employee can access the building. Security guards, video cameras, and surveillance cameras may be useful. Other access safety protocols may also help – again, depending on the type of work involved.

Employers can also consider wellness programs, counseling, and other ways to help employees who might be going through a difficult time.

Our skilled North Carolina and Virginia work injury lawyers represent police officers, hospital workers, and many other workers who risk their lives for our safety every day. We understand how traumatic it is when a worker is physically or emotionally attacked. For more than a quarter-century, we’ve helped employees who are hurt at work get the full recoveries they deserve. To speak with a highly respected workers’ compensation advocate, call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295. or complete our online contact form to make an appointment. Injured or ill workers, or the family members of deceased workers in Virginia and North Carolina can now use our New Electronic Case Review to get a faster response in relation to whether there is a case and representation is required.