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Seeking Compensation Following an Assault in the Workplace

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Argument in a work meeting, representing workplace assault.

Experiencing an assault at work can be a profoundly distressing event, leaving both physical and emotional scars. It’s a situation that no one should have to face, yet it remains a reality for too many workers across various industries. If you have found yourself in this unfortunate and challenging position, we have outlined in this article the key considerations in protecting your well-being and legal rights.

What should I do if I have been physically assaulted at work?

If you have been assaulted at work, there are numerous immediate and important steps that you will need to take to ensure your safety, protect your rights, and address the incident properly. The key steps are as follows:

  • Seek Medical Attention – Prioritising your health and well-being following the incident is the number one priority. If you are injured, get medical treatment immediately. Even if your injuries seem minor, a medical evaluation can document the assault and may reveal injuries that aren’t immediately apparent.
  • Report the Incident to your Employer – Inform your employer about the assault as soon as possible. This includes notifying your supervisor, human resources department, or any designated workplace safety officer. Reporting the incident formally starts the process of addressing the assault that occurred whilst carrying out your employment duties.
  • Document Everything – As soon as possible you will need to document details of the incident. This includes the date, time, and location, the events leading up to the assault, the assault itself, and details of any witnesses. Documentation is crucial for police investigations, legal action, and insurance claims.
  • Report the Incident to the Gardaí – For serious incidents, you will need to report the assault at your nearest Garda station or by calling the emergency services number. This is particularly important if the assault involves criminal behaviour. A report lodged with the Gardaí provides an official record of the incident.
  • Understand Your Rights – Speak to a union representative if you are a member of a trade union. Review the information available on the Citizens Information website regarding healthy and safety at work. Also speak to a solicitor with expertise in personal injury claims, to ascertain whether the assault constitutes a breach in your employer’s duty of care. You may have the grounds for both civil and criminal legal proceedings, with compensation available in the former category.
  • Seek Support – Consider accessing support services, such as counselling or support groups, especially if you’re dealing with emotional or psychological distress following the assault. Serious psychological repercussions from the incident may also strengthen your personal injury claim, potentially warranting a larger compensation payout.
  • Follow Up – Keep in touch with your employer and any authorities involved to stay updated on the status of any investigations or actions being taken in response to the assault.

Taking these steps helps ensure your well-being is protected, the incident is properly documented and investigated, and that you understand and can exercise your rights following the assault.

What is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and what does it say about workplace assault?

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 in Ireland is designed to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of employees and other people at work. This comprehensive legislation outlines the responsibilities of employers, employees, and various other parties in maintaining a safe workplace. While the Act does not specifically mention “workplace assault” in those exact terms, it includes provisions that can be relevant to preventing and addressing workplace violence.

For example, section 8 of the Act outlines various general duties of the employer. This includes the following:

8.2 (a) managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees;

8.2 (b) managing and conducting work activities in such a way as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health or welfare at work of his or her employees at risk;

Furthermore, section 19 of the Act specifies that employers must perform risk assessments and take preventive measures against hazards identified. This can be interpreted to include those that could lead to physical violence or assault.

Can employers be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees?

Yes, employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. Vicarious liability is a legal principle whereby an employer can be held responsible for the acts or omissions of its employees that occur during their employment. This principle applies even if the employer was not directly involved in the incident or did not endorse the employee’s actions.

The key elements for vicarious liability to apply are:

  • Employment Relationship – There must be a relationship of employment, where one party (the employee) is under the obligation to perform duties for and under the direction of another (the employer).
  • Course of Employment – The wrongful acts or omissions must have occurred in the course of employment. This means the employee’s actions were related to their duties or what they were employed to do, even if the specific act was not authorised by the employer.

Vicarious liability is commonly applied in cases involving:

  • Negligence – If an employee causes harm or injury to another (either a coworker or a third party) through negligent actions while performing their job, the employer can be held liable for the damages resulting from those actions.
  • Harassment and Discrimination – Employers can be held liable for acts of harassment or discrimination committed by their employees against other employees or third parties, if these acts occur in the context of the employment.
  • Other Wrongful Acts – This can include a range of wrongful acts committed by an employee during their employment, from physical assaults to breaches of privacy or confidentiality.

However, for an employer to be held vicariously liable, it must be demonstrated that the employee’s actions were closely connected to their employment duties such that it would be fair and just to hold the employer responsible.

Irish law, through various statutes and case law, has established and refined the concept of vicarious liability, aligning it with principles found in common law jurisdictions. Employers are encouraged to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of vicarious liability, such as implementing clear policies and procedures, providing training, and taking prompt action to address inappropriate behaviour or practices by employees.

In what scenarios might I have the grounds for a personal injury claim following an assault in the workplace?

You may have grounds to bring a claim if your employer failed to fulfil their legal obligations to maintain a safe working environment or behaved negligently in some way. Scenarios where this might apply include the following:

  • Inadequate Security Measures – If the assault occurred in a context where your employer failed to provide adequate security measures, despite a foreseeable risk of violence. This includes lack of security personnel, inadequate lighting, or failure to install security cameras where necessary.
  • Failure to Address Known Risks – If your employer was aware of a specific threat or had reason to believe that an assault could occur (for example, via reports of threatening behaviour or previous incidents of violence) and did not take reasonable steps to mitigate the risk.
  • Lack of Training – If the assault could have been prevented by proper training, which your employer failed to provide. This includes training on conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques, or how to safely handle potentially violent situations or individuals.
  • Negligent Hiring or Retention – If your employer negligently hired someone with a known history of violent behaviour without taking appropriate precautions or retained an employee after becoming aware of their propensity for violence. In these circumstances you are likely to have the grounds to bring a personal injury claim.
  • Failure to Enforce Policies – If your employer has policies in place to prevent workplace violence but failed to enforce these policies effectively, this potentially may provide a basis for bringing a claim.
  • Inadequate Response to Complaints – If you had previously raised concerns or complaints about harassment, bullying, or threats that were not adequately addressed by your employer, you are likely to have a strong basis to bring a claim following an assault.
  • Violation of Health and Safety Laws – If the assault occurred because of your employer’s failure to comply with health and safety laws, including those requiring risk assessments and measures to prevent workplace violence, this can also be used as basis to bring a claim.
  • Poor Workplace Design or Maintenance – If aspects of the workplace design or maintenance contributed to the assault, such as unsafe areas that facilitated the assailant’s actions, you are likely to have grounds to bring a claim.

For a personal injury claim to be successful, you will need to demonstrate that the employer had a duty of care to provide a safe working environment, that this duty was breached, and that the breach directly caused the injury suffered. Additionally, it must be shown that the injuries are a result of the assault and not unrelated factors.

Which occupations are most at risk of workplace violence?

Occupations most at risk of workplace violence include healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, who face aggression from patients or their families; social services and mental health professionals dealing with vulnerable or unstable individuals; law enforcement and correctional officers confronting criminals; retail workers encountering thefts and irate customers; and public transport employees facing disputes from passengers. Teachers, hospitality industry workers, delivery and postal workers, and public sector employees in customer-facing roles also frequently encounter workplace violence due to their high levels of interaction with the public and potentially volatile situations. All workers in these sectors, as well as many other sectors, may have the grounds to bring a personal injury claim in scenarios where a duty of care was breached by the employer.

Require legal assistance following an assault at work?

If you’ve suffered serious physical or psychological injuries following an assault in the workplace, you may have the grounds to bring a personal injury claim against your employer. Call us on 1800 390 555 and an experienced member of staff will discuss your situation and potential next steps. You can also email info@mccarthy.ie and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.

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