When Is Workplace Violence Covered by Workers' Comp?

Workers walking in a Warehouse

Every employer in California is required to provider workers’ compensation insurance, even if they only have one employee. This insurance kicks in to help cover expenses and losses caused by any workplace accident, regardless of fault. But what if you’re hurt in a way that’s not accidental? Workers’ comp insurers are very clear that there are some injuries they will not cover; the main requirement is that your injury must be clearly and provably work-related. Does this mean any violence that takes place in the workplace is covered? Not quite.

Violence in the Workplace

According to the CDC, an average of 20 workers are murdered on the job each week—and 18,000 more are assaulted in their workplace. Out of 5,147 workplace deaths in 2017, 458 were the result of violence. Aggression is thus the third most common cause of death in the workplace. Those who manage to escape with only injuries may face related complications; on the whole, millions of dollars of wages are lost to workplace violence.

Understanding the Bounds of Workers’ Comp

OSHA requires every employer to provide a safe workplace for their employees. This includes addressing issues like violence and sexual harassment or assault. But, when do these become the employer’s responsibility and result in valid workers’ compensation claims?

As we’ve discussed, workers’ comp covers work-related injuries, but draws the line in cases where the fault can be separated from the claimant’s work duties. While a concussion due to a machinery accident would be covered, a baseball to the head during a company picnic probably would not. The same standard applies to workplace injuries due to violence.

As with other injuries, workers’ comp covers violence regardless of the fault: it could be committed by your boss, your coworker, a third-party contractor, a customer, or anyone else in your workplace (or near you while you’re performing work duties, even if you’re offsite). The motive behind the attack is what matters to your insurer. If the attack is related to your place of employment or work duties, it is covered by workers’ compensation. If it is a personal disagreement, even one that takes place at the workplace, it is not.

Here’s some examples of how that plays out:

  • Covered: Your coworker punches you because he believes you took the last sharpie out of the supply closet and didn’t put in a new order.
  • Not covered: Your coworker punches you because he believes you keyed his car when he left it in your office’s parking lot overnight.
  • Covered: A customer shoves you into shelving, causing the unit to collapse and you to suffer multiple injuries, because their credit card was declined.
  • Not covered: A customer shoves you into shelving, causing the unit to collapse and you to suffer multiple injuries, because you turned down a date with them.

If you aren’t sure whether the incident should be covered by workers’ compensation, you should speak to a lawyer and file a claim. The filing process is free, and California law protects you against employer retaliation. The worst that can happen is that the insurance provider says no.

Personal Injury, or Workers’ Comp?

Workers’ comp was set up to protect both workers and their employers: For workers, it provides a safety net in case of catastrophe. For employers, it provides protection against direct liability for workplace accidents, injuries, and illnesses. That means you usually can’t sue your employer for a workplace accident unless their actions were egregiously out of line. If you believe your employer was negligent to the point that they directly caused your injury, you may be able to bring a personal injury case. The same goes for any intentionally harmful actions by an employer or anyone else in the workplace.

When you’re the victim of workplace violence, you may be able to recover further damages by suing the perpetrator and applying for workers’ comp. Keep in mind that each type of claim allows you to ask for different types of compensation. Violent attacks can cause costly, long-term harm that you shouldn’t have to pay for. Make sure you get your fair compensation by talking to a lawyer today.

Not sure if you have a workers’ comp claim? Contact us online or by calling (818) 946-0608.

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