Understand your rights if you’re assaulted by a customer or client at work in Georgia
When thinking of common causes of workplace injuries, slip-and-fall accidents or tasks involving repetitive motions may come to mind. However, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), the fifth leading cause of injury in the workplace is assault. In fact, there have been more than 1.1 million events and exposures to workplace violence since the NSC first started tracking the data in 2011.
Even more significant is the climbing rate of violence. In 2011, there were 11,690 total work-related assaults. In 2020, that number reached 20,050. That’s almost twice as many in less than a decade.
What types of events are considered assault?
“Assault” is a broad term, legally speaking, but it’s generally used to refer to harm inflicted on a person. This can include:
- Slapping, scratching, hitting and kicking
- Throwing objects
- Shoving or grabbing
- Attacking someone with a weapon
- Sexual assault
Harm isn’t limited to physical abuse, either. It can also include verbal harassment, loud or excessive yelling, or threats of violence. For example, brandishing a gun can be considered “assault with a deadly weapon” even if the gun isn’t fired.
Which industries most commonly experience assault at work?
Customer violence can happen in any industry, but it’s more common in certain jobs than in others. The NSC reports that a staggering 99% of workplace assaults take place within service-providing industries, representing 19,850 cases out of 20,050.
Some of the most dangerous fields include:
In the news: Georgia’s fatal mask-related shooting
In 2021, a fatal shooting occurred in a Big Bear Supermarket in DeKalb County, southeast of Atlanta, after an argument about masks. A customer opened fire and killed a cashier, also injuring another cashier and a sheriff’s deputy on site. This is a tragic example of how workplace violence can end a life.
The growing violence against airline workers
Violent incidents on airlines have also been making headlines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They began with altercations related to mask mandates, but they’ve become increasingly common for other reasons as well. Some people within the industry are calling it “air rage.”
According to a report by ABC News, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported more incidents of air rage in the year 2021 than in the entire history of the organization’s record-keeping. According to their data, a full 85% of flight attendants dealt with unruly passengers in 2021.
Violence doesn’t just impact workers: consequences of violence for organizations
Organizations can face many setbacks after assaults on their employees.
The most obvious consequence is loss. This can be a physical loss if the employee is killed, disabled, or too hurt to come back to work. It can also be the loss of skill or productivity if the organization struggles to retain workers or reach work-related goals in hostile environments.
Damage is another thing that must be accounted for after an assault. It can range from property damage to damage to organizational or management structures when resources have to be diverted.
Last but not least, there can be an increase in costs after incidents of workplace violence. These include increased security costs, the cost of compensating an injured employee, and more.
Workplace violence and workers’ compensation in Georgia
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that most Georgia businesses (with 3 or more workers) are required to purchase. It provides benefits that cover medical expenses and lost wages for many kinds of occupational diseases and injuries, but the law is murkier when it comes to assaults.
There are 2 main qualifiers when it comes to receiving workers’ comp after workplace violence:
- Did it happen because of the job? A personal conflict brought into work doesn’t usually fall under the “scope and course of employment” of workers’ compensation claims. For example, if your ex comes to your office and hits you during an argument about your breakup, that doesn’t qualify as a workplace incident, even though it technically occurred at work.
- Who was the aggressor? If you started the fight, you won’t be eligible for workers’ compensation. This can include verbal as well as physical action, so if you provoked the other person with words, that can disqualify you from benefits too.
Is PTSD after an attack from a violent customer covered under workers’ comp in Georgia?
Georgia is one of the stricter states when it comes to awarding workers’ comp benefits for mental health issues. In some cases, it will pay out for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but you’ll need to have accompanying physical injuries from the incident.
If PTSD is your “only” injury, you won’t qualify for workers’ comp in Georgia.
Gerber & Holder attorney Tom Holder talks about whether psychological counseling is covered under workers’ compensation.
What to do if you’re attacked by a customer at work
While every situation is different, these are the general recommendations for dealing with violent incidents at your job and getting compensation for your injuries:
- Get to safety.
- Call the police.
- Seek medical attention for any injuries. Please note: This is a necessary step if you want to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
- File a report at work. To qualify for workers’ comp benefits, you must inform your employer of the incident within 30 days.
- Gather statements from anyone who witnessed the incident.
- File a workers’ comp claim. You can do this by submitting Form WC-14 to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
- Contact a work injury attorney if your claim is denied for help with an appeal.
Calling the police and going to the doctor are both necessary to create a paper trail of the incident. Filing a report at work can also fulfill the “notifying your employer of your injury” requirement of the workers’ compensation process.
Can I sue my employer if I’m assaulted by a customer at work?
You can’t usually sue your employer after a workplace assault. There are exceptions, but they’re rare, and they require things like establishing fault or negligence on the part of your employer.
You can, however, sue the person who assaulted you. In some cases, you might even be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits from your employer as well as compensation through a personal injury lawsuit against your assaulter. Again, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer to fully understand your options.
Contact an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
If you work in the Atlanta area and are suffering from injuries after being assaulted by a customer at work, contact the experienced work injury attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys for help with your claim.
Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping Georgia workers recover the compensation they deserve after a work-related injury or illness. Let us handle the negotiations with your employer’s workers’ comp insurer so you can put all your energy toward your recovery.
Contact us today for a free consultation.