More than two million workers are victims of violence each year. While violence in the workplace is an important issue for employers and employees on a basic, physical safety level, it is also an issue for workers’ compensation insurers. Most work places, by their very nature, involve social interaction. When a physical assault happens during the course of work, questions arise as to whether the injuries are compensable.
In Connecticut, in order for an injury to be compensable under workers’ compensation, it must arise out of and in the course of employment. Under C.G.S. 31-28 s. 2.21.4, if the injury results as a natural consequence of the conditions of the employment, or if the character of the business or the conditions under which it is carried on makes such incidents likely, and the result should have been contemplated by the employer, then the assault will be considered to arise out of the employment. “If one employee assaults another employee solely to gratify his feeling of anger, hatred or ill will between them emanating from outside the employment relationship then injury results from the voluntary act of the assailant cannot be said to arise . . . out of the employment.” Ryker v. Town of Bethany, 4780 CRED-3-04-2 (Feb. 16, 2005), aff’d., 97 Conn. App. 304 (2006). However, if the injured employee is assaulted while he is defending his employer, its property or interests, then the injury will arise out of the employment. See id.
The reason for, or cause of, the workplace assault is the key fact in determining whether the fight and the resulting injury arose out of the employment. William v. Taylor & Fenn Co., 137 Conn. 262 (1951). The assault will be considered as arising out of, and in the course of, employment if the reason for the assault is a quarrel having its origin from the work itself, not just at work. See id. The motivation behind the assault must be investigated to determine if it was the result of personal unrelated work matter and if the location of the assault was merely incidental to the attack. Hernandez v. Pizzaria 101 and Family, 5254 CRB-2-07-7 (Dec. 8, 2008). In Hernandez, an injured employee was severely beaten by a co-worker because the co-worker believed the injured employee told others that they had a sexual relationship. Id. While the assault happened at work, it bore no relationship to the employment and was not deemed compensable under Connecticut law. Id.
Additionally, the Connecticut courts have found that an employer is not liable in common law tort for an assault by one employee against another, even if the employer was aware of its employee’s aggressive behavior prior to the actual assault, unless the employer commanded or expressly authorized the assault. See Perille v. Raybestos-Manhattan-Europe, Inc., 196 Conn. 529 (1985).
Some speculate that violence in the workplace has increased in the age of social media, which has altered relationships and interactions between co-workers, and extended relationships, and disputes, beyond the workplace environment.
If you have questions regarding the compensability of an injury arising out of an altercation between your employees, or between an employee and a customer, please contact Chartwell Law for a full assessment of your rights and obligations.