April Congruity Q&A: Employee Assaulted By Coworker

Question:

While working, an employee assaulted his coworkin in our California workplace. May the injured employee pursue a workers' compensation claim?

Answer:

Yes. An employee who is assaulted at work by a coworker may elect to file a workers’ compensation claim. However, he or she may also file an internal complaint, report the assault to the police, or pursue a civil lawsuit. Whether the workers’ compensation claim (or any other claim) will be successful depends upon the facts. For example, was the injured employee the initial physical aggressor? According to California Law, at Cal. Labor Code § 3600(a)(7), employers are not liable under the state’s workers’ compensation law for an injury that arises out of an altercation in which the injured employee is the initial physical aggressor.

Regardless, after an injury occurred in the workplace, California employers must: 

  • Provide a workers' compensation claim form to the claimant within one working day after a work-related injury or illness is reported.
  • Return a completed copy of the claim form to the claimant within one working day of receipt.
  • Forward the claim form, along with the employer's report of occupational injury or illness, to the claims administrator within one working day of receipt.
  • Within one day of receiving the claim, authorize up to $10,000 in appropriate medical treatment.
  • Provide transitional work (light duty) whenever appropriate.
  • Give notice of workers’ compensation eligibility within one working day of the crime (assault) that happened at work.

It is not for the employer to determine whether the injury will be covered under its workers’ compensation insurance. Rather, the claims administrator will determine whether the injury is covered.

Another issue worth mentioning is that California employers are required to abide by a duty of care in the workplace. According to Cal. Labor Code § 6401, “[e]very employer shall furnish and use safety devices and safeguards, and shall adopt and use practices, means, methods, operations, and processes which are reasonably adequate to render such employment and place of employment safe and healthful. Every employer shall do every other thing reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees.” Violations of this duty incur significant monetary damages.