Violence at Work

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) define work-related violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.’ This includes verbal abuse and threats, as well as any form of physical abuse.

Those most at risk are employees who work with members of the public. However it is important to remember that violence can also be perpetrated by fellow employees.

Duties of employers

Employers have a responsibility to their employees to make sure that they are reasonable safe at work.

Often when considering this duty, employers consider the need for work premises and any machinery to be safe. Whilst these are important considerations, employers must also consider the risk posed by other people employees will meet during the course of their employment.

Higher risk jobs (e.g. workers in care homes for adults suffering from mental illness) would be expected to have specifically assessed this risk and have specific policies and procedures in place to try to reduce the risk of and prevent violent incidents occurring. All employees should be trained on these procedures. If you have concerns, speak to your employer.

It is important that these procedures are reviewed regularly. Any accidents or near misses should be reported to your employer so that they can review whether any amendments are needed.

First steps following an incident

  1. If an incident occurs, promptly report it to your manager. If they don’t investigate the incident, make sure that you make notes of what happened, write down the names of any witnesses, and take photos of the area and any injuries
  2. If you wish to pursue the matter as a criminal offence, ask your employer to report it to the police. If they don’t do so, you can call the police yourself. (For non-emergency calls, contact the police on 101.)
  3. If you have concerns about the incident being repeated, discuss ways to prevent this with your manager

Criminal action

If any violence (from a member of the public, customer or colleague) is committed against you, consider whether it is a criminal offence. Forms of violence which constitute a criminal offence may include:

  • Use of racially abusive language
  • Threats to kill
  • Physical violence (e.g. punching / kicking, especially if injury is caused)

You may want to consider a civil action against your employer in the form of an employment law claim or an injury claim:

1. Employment law claim

If an employer fails to prevent violence at work, and you have to leave your job as a result, this could constitute a breach of contract and may result in a constructive dismissal claim.

For example: Your employer knows that a fellow employee regularly threatens you and does not take action to prevent the abuse. You are unable to work in those conditions and quit your job. This could be constructive dismissal and you could be entitled to compensation.

Seek advice from an employment law specialist or your local Citizens Advice Bureau if you are considering making an employment claim.

2. Injury claim

If you are injured as a result of violence at work, you may be able to make an injury claim against your employer. Injuries may be physical (e.g. bruising / broken nose) or mental (e.g. a diagnosed psychological condition such as anxiety or PTSD).

Your employer is responsible for ensuring your reasonable safety at work. If they have not taken appropriate action to do so, they may be found to have acted negligently and so be responsible for your injury. Employers are responsible for the actions of other employees, even if criminal. Therefore if, for example, another employee assaults you at work, your employer will be liable to compensate you for any injury suffered as a result.

If you are considering this route, speak to an injury law specialist or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Work-place violence: Everybody’s problem

As you will see from the above, violence at work is a serious issue for employers. Not only can work-place violence lead to injured employees requiring time off work, but employers may end up with civil claims against them.

Employees can be assured that the law is very much on their side in terms of ensuring their safety at work, which extends to protection from violence. If you have any concerns, speak to your employer and hopefully you can work together to prevent any incidents occurring. However if any incident does occur and you are not happy with your employer’s response to it, remember that you have several legal options open to you in order to resolve the situation.

Last Updated on 9 August 2021

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