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If I am Assaulted at Work Can I Get Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Many workers are generally familiar with the term “workers’ compensation,” and know that it involves insurance payments made to people who are hurt at work. It is usually thought of in the context of workplace accidents, like a construction site fall or a cut that occurs while opening a shipment. Workers’ compensation does provide financial benefits in these situations but it is not limited to accidents in the workplace.
Workers’ compensation coveragealso provides benefits to those injured on the job through the intentional actions of another person. In other words, workers’ compensation will usually compensate workers for injuries that resulted from an attack at work.
Workers’ Compensation for Workplace Attacks
Workplace attacks can occur in a few different ways. A worker may be physically assaulted by a co-worker, supervisor, customer, or a third party unrelated to the business. No matter who the aggressor is, employees can obtain workers’ compensation benefits if they are attacked at work.
As with all other types of events triggering workers’ compensation benefits, employees harmed during an attack at work that is covered by workers’ compensation are entitled to recover compensation in the form of wage replacement during resulting time-off, medical care for the injury, and financial compensation for any disability that results from the attack.
Covered Workplace Attacks
Whether an attack is covered by workers’ compensation depends primarily on three considerations: (1) whether the attack occurred on the job; (2) whether the attacked employee was performing their job duties at the time of the attack; and (3) the cause of the attack. It usually does not matter whether the injury was the employers’ fault.
In many cases, it will be clear that these factors are met and workers’ compensation is available. For example, imagine a customer that comes into a hardware store and, after being told by the clerk working at the store they are out of the item the customer wants, punches the clerk. Certainly, the clerk was on the job, doing his or her duties, and the customer caused the attack. Under these circumstances, workers’ compensation will almost certainly be available.
However, cases are not always as clear as these examples. Attacks may occur off work premises, while an employee is off the clock, or may be initiated by the employee. These types of situations raise legal issues that could prevent the employee from recovering workers’ compensation benefits for their attack.
Physical Attacks that are Off Workplace Premises
It is easy to assume that injuries resulting from attacks outside of the office, warehouse, or other workplace premises would not be covered by workers’ compensation. However, this is not the case. Physical attacks will usually be covered by workers’ compensation if they are related to the injured person’s employment.
This concept is easier to understand with an example. Let’s pretend that the hardware clerk, discussed above, was not attacked at the store but was instead attacked by a third-party while at the bank depositing money into the hardware store’s account, a task that is part of the clerk’s duties. The clerk would probably be entitled to workers’ compensation coverage because though not occurring “at work,” the attack occurred while the clerk was doing his or her job. In contrast, if the clerk had been at the bank on a personal errand unrelated to work while on lunch break, the injuries would be excluded.
Physical Attacks While Off the Clock
Workers compensation may even be available when otherwise qualifying physical attacks occur while the worker is technically “off the clock.” For workers compensation purposes in Pennsylvania, the key is whether the worker was acting in the course of their employment while injured, not whether they were technically clocked-in or clocked-out.
There are a number of situations where a worker is technically off the clock but still covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Common examples include an employee that has left work but is still on the premises, like in a parking lot, when they are injured; an employee that is injured while carrying out conduct requested by the employer; and an employee on a business trip traveling from their lodging to where they are working.
Cause of Workplace Attacks
There are two components to cause of workplace attacks that impact whether or not the attacked employee will be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits: (1) who was at fault; and (2) the motivation for the attack.
As you’d expect, if a worker is at fault for an assault, they will not be able to obtain workers’ compensation for their injuries. For example, in the hardware store example above, if the worker had pushed the customer for no reason when the customer asked about an item and then the customer fought back and harmed the employee, the employee would not be entitled to workers’ compensation because he or she was at fault for the altercation.
Less intuitive is the fact that under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation laws, and a number of other states, a worker is barred from recovering workers’ compensation benefits if the attack was motivated by a purely personal reason. This exclusion applies even if the worker was completely innocent, on the job, and performing work-related duties at the time of the attack.
Again, turning to the hardware store example, if the customer was the ex-spouse of the worker and attacked the worker purely out of anger over the divorce, workers’ compensation benefits would not apply. However, if the customer was the ex-spouse but initiated the attack because of anger over an unavailable item at the store, workers’ compensation would provide the employee benefits because the cause was work-related.
Limitations on Other Remedies for Workplace Attacks
A physical attack usually provides a basis to sue the attacker for assault and battery under civil laws. However, when the attack occurs in the workplace, the attacked employee’s civil remedies might be limited to workers’ compensation claims, making it even more important to act quickly to pursue available workers’ compensation. Sometimes, particularly if the attack was by a third-party, not the employer or a co-worker, the injured worker may be able to pursue both civil remedies and workers’ compensation.
What to Do if You Have Been Attacked at Work
The steps you should take are almost identical to the steps that you should take after any workplace injury. You should first secure your safety and treat your injuries. This may mean calling the police if the assailant is still on the premises, using a first-aid kit to treat your injuries, and/or going to a hospital or clinic to obtain professional care for your injuries.
As soon as you are safe and medically stable, you should report the incident and your injuries to your employer and to law enforcement officials. Early reporting helps make sure you do not waive any workers’ compensation or other legal rights. You are required to provide notice of your workplace injury in order to be able to recover workers’ compensation. After reporting, if you have not already seen a medical provider for your injuries, you should do so. Medical evaluation and treatment of your injuries are important for documenting your injuries and to ensure that you obtain you maximum recovery possible.
The next step is to determine what legal options and remedies are available to you and pursue your workers’ compensation and/or other legal claims.
If you would like assistance in pursuing legal remedies for your workplace injuries, the experienced workers’ compensation legal team at Saffren & Weinberg can provide you with additional information about workers’ compensation claims or a free case evaluation so that you can understand your options. Contact us at (215) 576-0100 with questions or to obtain your case evaluation.