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Is Workplace Violence Covered by Workers' Compensation?

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 761 workplace fatalities out of 5,333 were due to intentional injury by another in 2019. While workers' compensation provides relief for medical expenses, lost wages, and funeral or burial expenses for workers who have been injured or died on the job, does workers' compensation cover workers who have been assaulted at work?

Defining Workplace Violence

Before we can answer the question of whether or not workers' compensation covers workplace violence, we must first define workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as any act or threat of violence or intimidating behavior that occurs at the workplace. It can range from verbal abuse to physical assault or even murder.

Common Types of Workplace Violence

While violence can happen in any type of workplace environment or atmosphere, there are jobs where the risk factors for violence are increased. Typical jobs where violence can regularly occur are:

  • Jobs where exchanging money is required
  • Jobs were alcohol is served
  • Night shift jobs
  • Jobs in areas of high crime rate

Workplace Violence and Workers' Compensation

A worker injured due to a work-related assault may be entitled to compensation through New York's workers' compensation system if their injuries result in medical expenses or time off work. However, the injured worker would need to prove that the assault was indeed work-related.

What is the "Horseplay Rule"?

Sometimes work-related violence isn't intentional. Unintentional violence in the workplace can come about through the form of horseplay. When someone is injured at work due to themselves and coworkers "playing around," it can be difficult to determine whether or not their injury is compensable. Many factors need to be evaluated and taken into account to figure out whether or not the injury can be considered work-related.

It is generally accepted that, within every workplace, an occasional amount of play will be had during the course of work. As far as the Workers' Compensation Board is concerned, they are looking for two determining factors:

  • Did the injury occur within the scope of employment?
  • Did the injury occur during the course of employment?

In application, courts found that when horseplay arose out of situations like "friendly jostling," water cooler conversations, or workplace pranks, any resulting injuries may be compensable.

On the other hand, when horseplay arises out of isolated incidents and cannot reasonably be seen as a foreseeable part of employment, injuries may not be compensable. For example, in an instance of horseplay from 1984, two police officers were teasing a cohort (claimant) of theirs on the slowness of his typing skills. The claimant "jokingly" unfastened the safety strap on his holster and reached for his gun. One of the officers, in turn, held their gun up, which accidentally went off, hitting the claimant through both thighs.

The court determined that this instance of horseplay was isolated and could not be seen as a reasonable or foreseeable part of the employment. The claimant's application for workers' compensation was denied.

What If I'm Injured at a Holiday Party?

Believe it or not, injuries sustained after hours at a company holiday party can still be considered compensable under workers' compensation. That is if it can be proven that the cause of the injury (whether it was horseplay or assault) had a work-related motive. Assaults that happen off company property can also be compensable.

For example, say worker "A" went to the bar and was unexpectedly met by his coworker "B." Both have had disagreements in the past about each other's work ethic. After a few drinks, "B" assaults and injures "A" after an intense argument about their job. This may be considered a compensable injury as it had a work-related motive behind it.

Schotter Millican, LLP is with You Every Step of the Way

At Schotter Millican, LLP, our experienced attorneys can help you to understand the complexities of the workers' compensation system and will fight aggressively on your behalf. We are committed to getting you the compensation that you deserve.

If you were involved in a workplace accident due to violence, call us today at (718) 550-0610 or fill out our form online for a free consultation.

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