Assaulted at Work – Workplace Assault

Understanding Your Legal Rights as an Employee

During employment, employees may suffer physical and mental injuries because of an assault at work. Employers can be held vicariously liable for acts or ommissions in respect of the wrongdoings conducted by an employee against another employee in the workplace. In the Equal Status Act of 2000 it states the following ‘’Anything done by a person in the course of his or her employment shall, in any proceedings brought under this Act, be treated for the purposes of this Act as done also by that person’s employer, whether or not it was done with the employer’s knowledge or approval’’.  

Employers Duties and Responsibilities

The 2005 Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work Act is the main legislation on workplace safety and health. It applies to all employers, employees, and sole proprietors. This law outlays the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees at work in terms of health and safety law.  Employers also have common law duty obligations to take reasonable care for their employees safety at work.

Under Section 8 of the act, employers are responsible for ensuring employees safety, health, and welfare at work to the reasonably practicable limit. If any employee should suffer physical injury or mental injury because of negligence of the employer, an employee is entitled to seek a legal remedy.

The following are examples of Employer duties under the 2005 Act :

  • managing and conducting work activities to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • managing and conducting work activities to prevent improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health or welfare at work of his or her employees at risk, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to ensure the place of work is safe and without risk to health, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to ensure the safety and the prevention of risk to health at work of his or her employees relating to the use of any article or substance or the exposure to noise, vibration or ionising or other radiations or any other physical agent, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to providing systems of work that are planned, organised, performed, maintained and revised as appropriate so as to be safe and without risk to health, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to provide and maintain facilities and arrangements for the welfare of his or her employees at work, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to provide information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health, and welfare at work of his or her employees, so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • to determine and implement the safety, health and welfare measures necessary for the protection of the safety, health and welfare of his or her employees when identifying hazards and carrying out a risk assessment, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Health and Social Care Workers

Certain workers such as those in the Health Care sector and Social Care sector are more at risk of injury at work due to assault.

We understand that the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has provided case numbers of workplace assaults on Health Services Executive (HSE) workers, but it would appear that of these cases 70% involved nurses injured in the line of duty. We understand that in 2018 there were approximately 584 assaults on nurses.

Assaults in the workplace can cause physical and/or psychological injuries which then can lower productivity in the workplace.

Some of the higher risk occupations include

  • Health care staff and social care workers;
  • Prison wardens and paramedics;
  • To a lesser extent members of the forces and workers such as taxi drivers.

It is virtually impossible to prevent assaults occuring, however, there is a positive duty on employers to put measures in place to endeavour to avoid assaults, as is reasonably practicable. For instance, if a patient has a history of violence, the employer should ensure the patient is not alone with a nurse. Other personnel should be present to assist. Panic buttons, alarm systems, as well as security screening, could be installed as is necessary. At the least an employer should give a social care staff member a file, or a briefing, on a resident where there is a risk of aggression/violence which details the care needs of the resident and their history, so as to enable the social care worker employ the appropriate care steps to avoid such an incident occurring.   

Scheme for Healthcare Workers if assaulted at work ?

There is a HSE scheme for nurses who sustained Injuries due to assaults in the workplace. Guidelines for the operation of the scheme have been published which detail the eligibility requirements, rules and sick pay entitlements etc. There is also a personal injuries* insurance based scheme for nurses explained in the HSE HR Circular 04(A)/2008.

I was assaulted at work and my employer fired me ?

This is evidently wrong and unfair, however, can happen. If this occurs a former employee has a right to seek a legal remedy and invoke the provisions the Unfair Dismissals Acts legislation.

Redress for Unfair Dismissal

When an employee is dismissed unfairly the employee has the right to seek redress and bring a case to the Workplace Relations Commission. In these circumstances an employee has a right to seek:

  • Re-instatement to the position he/she held prior to the date of the termination;
  • Financial compensation for a period not exceeding the amount equivalent to a 104-weeks remuneration. 

An employee should note there is a strict legal time line to commence this action being within six months from the date of the dismissal.

Personal Injury* Claim Legal Remedy

If you have been injured as a result of the actions of someone else, you will have suffered what is termed a Tort, which is a civil wrong, and as an injured party you will have a right to initiate a legal action.

Time Limits

There is a limit regarding how long an injured person has to initiate a legal personal injury* claim legal action. This limit is pursuant to the statute of limitations act and if surpassed, it can cause your claim to be whats termed as statute barred from court. One has two years from the date of the incident to initiate the legal action, and there is a separate statute of limitation period rule for assault.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you get attacked at work ?

Being assaulted at work evidently should not happen, but your employers response to such a situation is very important and will likely contribute to your feelings about what happened.

Did your employer carry out an investigation is one question to consider ?

What sanction or disciplinary consequence did the employer impose, if a fellow worker conducted the assault ?

If you were in a residential home setting or with vulnerable people, your employer has a duty to you to prepare you with detail in terms of the residents you are going to be working with ? You should have received the care plan in advance of working with a new resident, for example.

A person who gets attacked at work may have a civil action option available to them and evidently assault is prohibited by Section 2, 3 & 4 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, therefore the matter can be referred to An Garda Siochana also.

What should you do if you are being attacked at work ?

Evidently the straightforward answer to this is to get out of the situation and obtain medical care.

What are your responsibilities as an employee ?

Section 13 of the Safety Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005 outlines an employees responsibility in terms.

In the context of an assault, if you are the witness to an assault, then the assault should be reported to the employer who may have an obligation to report it to the Health and Safety Authority.

Can you take a case against a co-worker ?

If the co-worker assaulted you, you potentially can yes. If you attend with a solicitor, they will also review any liability on behalf of the employer as there is a legal principle called vicarious liability, which involves a scenario where someone else, in this case, the employer, can be held liable for the omission(s) or act(s) of duty of care to the injured employee. Employers have statutory duties and a common law duty of care to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace.

Who has responsibilities regarding safety at work ?

Some of the employers responsibilities in this post but the short answer is that both the employer and employee have responsibilities for this.

DISCLAIMER

Please be advised that the above-mentioned material is intended as an overview and as a broad out-line of the topic discussed. It should not be considered as complete and comprehensive legal advice, nor act as an appropriate substitute.


Due care has been taken in the publication of this article and we do not accept legal liability as a result of reliance on any material covered in the above article.

Personal Injuries * In contentious business, a Solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.

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