It often surprises people how widespread the danger of being assaulted at work has become. It is a hazard in the workplace faced by many workers, and in many different professions, yet there is a general sense that the threat of assault is only encountered in careers which are inherently dangerous.
In a new series of blog posts, we look at some recent events and occurrences of assaults at work to demonstrate just how pervasive a threat it can be, and how employers should do more to prepare and protect their workers from it.
A “sickening” assault on a traffic warden
Traffic wardens undoubtedly have to face a lot of anger in their line of work. The briefest of internet searches will show how frequently traffic wardens are named as one of the most hated professions in the UK (alongside lawyers, incidentally). But it goes without saying that this ‘hatred’ is no excuse or justification for their safety to be endangered when working.
In September, a 21-year old traffic warden in Birmingham was assaulted when ticketing an illegally parked car. He was attacked by a gang of four men who dragged him off his moped and kicked and stamped on him, using violence which the police described as “sickening”.
Fortunately, the injuries he received were non-serious but, as we have previously examined on this blog, physical injuries are only one aspect to consider when recovering from an assault at work.
Two of his attackers have since been arrested and charged, one of them, a 19-year old man, has already been sentenced to 9 months in prison with the second, who is 20, yet to appear in court.
There could be several possible legal options for the traffic warden, or someone in a similar position, to claim compensation for his injuries. Whilst it cannot undo the despicable act which he has been through, it could at least provide some financial means to help him in the assault’s aftermath.
Dangers of assault faced by shopworkers
Retail workers do not instantly spring to mind as a class of workers vulnerable to attacks at work. However, early results of a USDAW survey indicate that, in 2018, 230 shop workers were physically assaulted every day.
Another recent survey, of 1,000 shop workers, suggested that around two-thirds had experienced violence or aggression in their workplaces at some point. The survey also indicated a generally substandard response to this threat by employers:
“Despite the high rates of violence and aggression, fewer than 18% of respondents had received personal safety training in person or online, only 34% knew of a written personal safety policy and fewer still (21%) knew of clear reporting procedures for personal safety incidents.”
The USDAW survey also showed that 59% of workers who experienced violence, threats or abuse at work did not report it to their employer. The most common reason given for this was they did not think there was any point in doing so.
Employers are under a duty of care to make sure their workers are reasonably protected and safe whilst at work. This includes protection from being assaulted in the workplace, whether by staff, customers or other members of the public.
If you have been assaulted at work, you might be able to claim compensation from your employer if they failed in their duty of care towards you. However, the first step in such matters should always be to report the incident to your employer and/or the police as soon as possible. Doing so helps you to prove that the incident took place, as if your employer also has a record of it, it serves to corroborate the facts.
Teachers on strike over violent pupils
In October, several teachers at Kaimes School in Edinburgh went on strike, refusing to teach or supervise 8 pupils who were considered to pose a risk to the teachers’ health and safety. There had been a history of particularly violent behaviour from these pupils.
The City of Edinburgh Council responded by suspending the pay of the 11 teachers involved and banning them from entering the classrooms.
A spokesman for the council said: “We cannot have a situation where staff decide who they are and who they are not willing to teach as this would be contrary to their terms of employment.”
The other side of the argument, however, is that employers have a duty to protect their employees at work – as mentioned above. In addition, the strike started almost 12 months after the teachers’ concerns about their safety were first raised.
The NASUWT, the union supporting the teachers, stated that the council had “embarked on a campaign of aggressive and punitive actions towards the teachers, simply because they have dared to stand up for what is right.”
Although the strike has now been resolved – with a plan of action being agreed which aims to better protect teachers’ safety – recent statistics suggest the threat posed to the teachers at Kaimes is far from unique.
Figures provided in response to a Freedom of Information request made by the GMB Union show that, across 13 local education authorities between January 2017 and November 2018, 1,594 physical assaults were made by pupils against school support staff.
Union rep assaulted at work is dismissed by employers
Whilst reporting an assault at work to your employer is unquestionably the right thing to do, unfortunately it does not guarantee a sympathetic response from your employer.
When Benjamin Frederick, a guard for Great Western Railway, was assaulted, racially abused and spat on by a passenger, he reported the incident to his employers and the British Transport Police. However, his employers suspended him on the grounds that he had allegedly attacked a passenger, despite no complaints having been filed against him. Following two disciplinary hearings he was then dismissed by his employers.
Mr Frederick alleged that his dismissal was due to a grudge against him, held by his managers, for being a well-known union representative with RMT. Strike action by the union in solidarity for Mr Frederick eventually led his employers to reinstate him.
It is worth noting, however, that had the strike action not achieved this, Mr Frederick may have had claims against his employers for unfair dismissal. If it could be established that the reason behind his dismissal was indeed his union membership, this would be an automatically unfair reason for dismissal and his employers would be unable to justify his dismissal as fair on this basis.
If you have found yourself in any of the situations above, get in touch with Truth Legal for expert employment law advice.