Violence in the Workplace: When Does it Qualify for Workers' Compensation?

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Workplace violence among employees and between customers and employees continues to be a major issue in the United States. When these altercations occur, are people who suffer injuries eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits? The answer to that question is both simple and complex, according to Steven E. Goldberg, a partner and attorney with the Steinberg Law Firm.

The simple part is that if there is a fight between two employees, for either of them to receive benefits, the altercation must be work-related. For example, if two workers fight over borrowed money, neither will qualify for workers’ comp. But what if one employee tells another that he did a lousy job stacking boxes, they disagree and words lead to fisticuffs? If either employee is injured, that person may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Goldberg pointed out that it doesn’t matter who instigated the fight or who threw the first punch.

“Fault is not the issue in workers’ compensation,” he says.

The situation can be different, and a little more complex, if two employees get into an argument, and, a few hours later, one of them goes home, gets a baseball bat, returns to work, and uses it to inflict pain and injury on the other employee.

“There’s a counter-argument that if something is done intentionally and because it’s premeditated, it doesn’t fall under workers’ comp,” he explains, adding that the victim of the baseball-bat bashing might still qualify for benefits – and that he might also be able to file a personal injury case against his attacker.

Similarly, if two employees get into an argument that has nothing to do with work, agree to meet in the parking lot after hours and injure each other in a fight, neither will be eligible to receive workers’ comp benefits.

The Steinberg Law Firm has handled multiple cases involving workplace violence. They include a disgruntled employee who shot a co-worker; two workers who fought each other based on comments one of them made about the other’s work performance; and a person who attacked another person with a hammer after a work-related argument.

Goldberg said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped produce other situations involving workers’ compensation. For instance, flight crews have been injured by unruly passengers, and TSA personnel, as well as restaurant and retail workers, have been attacked by customers simply for asking them to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Goldberg pointed out that the workers’ comp system does not compensate employees for pain and suffering but only for medical treatment from a provider chosen by the workers’ comp carrier, approximately two-thirds of your salary while you are out of work or a lump sum settlement if you are permanently injured.

All employers with four or more employees are required to have workers’ compensation insurance, Goldberg pointed out. “You can’t avoid the law by avoiding your responsibility as an employer,” he says.

The bottom line is that if you think you might be entitled to compensation for an injury you received on the job, hiring an attorney experienced in this field will enhance your opportunity to receive the maximum amount of benefits available to you.

The workers’ compensation system can be complicated. If you have been injured at work and need help filing a claim or getting treatment, contact the Steinberg Law Firm, which has offices in Charleston, Summerville, and Goose Creek, at 843-720-2800. For more information, visit www.steinberglawfirm.com.