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Addressing Workplace Violence in the Workers’ Compensation System

Addressing Workplace Violence in the Workers’ Compensation SystemWhile feeling safe in your own workplace may seem like a reasonable expectation, violence in the workplace is more common than most people think it is. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers in the United States file more than two million reports each year regarding violent incidents against them in their workplace. This number may only be a fraction of the actual violent incidents that occur, as many tend to go unreported. When it comes to workplace violence, employees and employers often wonder who is responsible for the consequences and whether or not such events are eligible for workers’ compensation coverage.

The Employer’s Duty

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires that employers “shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” While broad in explanation, the employer’s duty to prevent dangerous working conditions is often interpreted to include threats of workplace violence.

OSHA’s definition of workplace violence is “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” The agency has the authority to issue fines when employers fail to protect their employees from physical violence, but the OSH Act does not intrinsically give employees just cause to sue their employers for injuries sustained by workplace violence.

Workers’ Compensation Claims for Workplace Violence

Because employees typically cannot sue their employers regarding financial compensation for incidents of workplace violence, they must instead go through the workers’ compensation system. While state laws differ on whether workplace violence is subject to workers’ compensation benefits, in many states it is covered as long as the incident happened while the employee was on-duty or performing a work-related task. However, in some cases, the injuries must arise out of employment to be covered.

In one case in New York State, the claimant, a clerk for the New York State Department of Law, was involved in a fist fight with another passenger on a shuttle bus. The claimant was exiting the bus in a satellite parking lot to get to her car after leaving work for the day. The other passenger in question became frustrated with the claimant because she did not exit the bus quickly enough. A fight broke out between the two parties, and the claimant was injured. She sought workers’ compensation for her injuries, citing that the incident happened on a bus provided by her employer, but the New York Workers’ Compensation Board denied her request. The New York Supreme Court upheld the ruling, citing that workplace assaults are not compensable through workers’ compensation if they are “motivated by purely personal animosity.” Testimony leading to the ruling indicated that the assault arose from personal hostilities unrelated to the claimants job, as she had never met the attacker prior to that incident.

In many cases, worker’s compensation claims related to workplace violence take more time and effort to process than other workers’ comp claims due to the complicated nature of the investigation process. Although it may be difficult to obtain, workers’ compensation benefits can be available to victims of workplace assaults. Violent incidents that are a direct result of employment conditions can be the basis for a successful workers’ compensation claim.

About ASIA Workers’ Compensation

Associated Specialty Insurance Agency, Inc. has been “The Workers’ Compensation Specialist for Brokers and Agents” for the past two decades and is committed to providing brokers and insurance agents across the East Coast with expertise and services to develop a Workers’ Compensation policy. For more information about how we can assist you with claims management, anti-fraud measures, and more call (610) 543-5510 to speak with one of our professionals.

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