Is Workplace Violence Covered Under Workers Compensation?
Jamal is seated at his cubicle, with his back to the open workspace. He is focused on completing a detailed financial report for his supervisor. Suddenly, Roy sneaks up behind Jamal and then forcefully slaps him on the back of the neck proclaiming "Hey buddy, how ya doin'?"
Jamal is thrust forward by the blow. Jamal's forehead strikes the portion of his cubicle just above his computer. He falls out of his chair, strikes his head on an open desk drawer, and hits the ground.
Jamal is out cold. A small crowd starts to gather around him.
As the paramedics remove Jamal from the work area, Roy exclaims to the worried boss "We were just joking around, we were just joking around. I didn't hit him THAT HARD!!!"
Later at the emergency room, Jamal is treated for neck and shoulder strains, and is also under observation for a possible concussion. Upon discharge, Jamal is instructed to remain home from work until given the "all clear" from his treating physicians.
Will Jamal be able to obtain worker's compensation benefits from his employer concerning his injuries and lost wages attributed to this incident?
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as "Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors."
Generally speaking, an employee's lost wages and treatment for medical injuries attributed to workplace violence will be covered under most workers’ compensation insurance policies.
There are, however, certain exceptions to this general rule.
For instance, (if true) a defense to a claim involving Jamal and Roy would be that these co-workers routinely engaged in back-and-forth horseplay. Such claims may be denied by the workers compensation insurance carrier, particularly if it is learned the employer knew about the horseplay and allowed it to continue unabated in the workplace.
In light of the continuing problem that is workplace violence, employers should implement strict policies and procedures prohibiting such behavior as even those forms of horseplay deemed to be "minor" can escalate into a worker's compensation loss - or worse.
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