On June 2, 2016 I attended an extremely interesting presentation given by the law firm of Costello & Mails about the employer’s duty to provide a safe work place for employees. There are many State and Federal laws that address this issue, as will be explained below. As a workers’ compensation attorney I found the information invaluable since the workers’ compensation statute is a no-fault statute that does not require an employer to maintain any level of safety for workers. The trade-off makes an employee eligible for certain limited benefits regardless of whether the employee or the employer is at fault. An employer at fault for an employee’s injury does not mean that the employee will get any more or any less benefits than an employee who was at fault for his or her own injury at work. The benefits discussed at this recent presentation were over and above any compensation an employee might be entitled to under the workers’ compensation law.
This doctrine of providing a “safe” workplace holds the employer liable for assault and battery committed by one employee against another when the employee who committed the assault is acting in the scope of employment. In order to be held liable for employee acts, the employer must have either intended that the conduct occur; been negligent or reckless; or improperly delegated authority to the employee who committed the crime. An example given at this presentation was that if an employer delegates the authority to control the work place to a supervisor, and the supervisor abuses that authority, the employer may be liable for a crime committed by that supervisor against a co-employee.
In addition, it is unlawful under the Conscientious Employee Protection Ace (CEPA) for an employer to retaliate against an employee who reports a crime that occurred at work. Under CEPA, an employee who reports that she was assaulted by a co-worker is theoretically protected from retaliation. Interestingly, in order to make a claim under CEPA, the employee does not actually have to incur a financial loss or be fired, suspended or demoted. It is enough that the employer harassed the employee in retaliation for the reporting of the crime or assault that happened on the job. The same section of the law applies to an employee who reports a crime or assault that the employee reasonably believed was committed against a co-worker on the job.
Remember, if you sustained physical injuries on the job because of an assault by a co-worker, you may also be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits apply if the assault did not occur because of purely personal reasons, such as an outside relationship or something of that nature, which had no connection to the work place.
If you have any questions about your workers’ compensation rights please call the workers’ compensation team at Stark & Stark.