Assaulted at Work Legal Advice Guide
By Catherine Reynolds
Chartered Legal Executive at Truth Legal
Being assaulted at work can be a horrifying experience, and can leave you suffering from many difficulties – physical and psychological. If you have suffered severe injuries, these effects could be life-changing.
An assault can also leave you feeling shaken, angry, vulnerable, and perhaps wondering what could have been done to stop it from happening. When faced with an injustice like this, it is natural to want to correct it.
A compensation claim may not be able to ‘undo’ the assault, but it can provide you with much-needed help and redress at a difficult time. It can assist you financially, give you better access to treatment and rehabilitation, and offer you the ability to lessen the harm you have suffered.
This guide will give you a detailed look at making a compensation claim following an assault at work. It contains many theoretical and practical aspects of making a claim – giving you a deeper understanding of the process. This way, you have everything you need to make an informed decision about seeking compensation.
If you would prefer to read a quicker overview, however, have a look at our assault at work claims page. Or, if you would like to speak to us and discuss your situation, please get in touch with one of Truth Legal’s expert solicitors for a chat.
What counts as an ‘assault at work’?
Whilst it may sound a simple question to answer, it is important to be clear on what is covered by the term ‘assault at work’. Some cases may be obvious examples of an assault at work, where others may be more uncertain.
A good place to start is the Health and Safety Executive’s definition, which considers an assault at work to be:
“Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”
There are a few key points to make here:
- Physical contact is not required for an assault at work. You may have heard of the crime of ‘common assault’. This is an offence where a victim is placed in real and immediate fear of being physically attacked, but where no violent contact actually occurs. For example, where an attacker throws a punch which misses.
It also means an assault at work can include situations where an attacker has not touched you themselves but has still applied unlawful force. For example, spitting, or throwing an object which has hit you and caused you injury. Many assaults at work will include unwanted physical contact, but this is not necessary to have grounds for a claim.
- The assault does not have to be in your workplace. You can still claim for an assault at work if it took place whilst you were carrying out your duties away from your precise workplace. For example, if you are a paramedic attacked whilst attending a casualty.
- An assault at work can cover a range of criminal offences. An assault at work claim can arise from many serious offences, such as:
- Causing actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm
- Acid attacks
- Armed robbery
- Attempted murder
- Sexual offences
Civil law and criminal law
The law is divided into two distinct strands – civil law and criminal law. Personal injury claims are matters of civil law, but matters such as assaults at work involve a clear overlap with criminal law. For instance, an assault by beating is a criminal offence (punishable under criminal law) but it also has a civil law equivalent – called the tort of battery. If your attacker is being prosecuted for their crime, it can sometimes have a bearing – and often a helpful one – on a personal injury claim.
If you become aware of a criminal prosecution connected with your assault at work, it is best to inform your personal injury solicitors so that they can advise you fully on the implications.
However, to be able to claim compensation for an assault at work, you must have suffered an injury and there must be someone from whom you can claim the compensation (this is covered in the next section).
Injuries can be physical or psychological, and often someone injured in an assault at work will be suffering from a combination of these. Where only psychological symptoms have been caused by the assault (or psychological symptoms and only very minor physical injuries) the psychological element must be sufficiently severe to support a claim.
This is not to say that psychological injuries are any less legitimate than physical injuries – simply that this is an added requirement when looking at claims involving mainly psychological symptoms. And throughout this guide, we use the term ‘injury’ to cover both physical and/or psychological injuries.
Who can I claim compensation from?
Depending on the circumstances of your assault, you may have several options for pursuing a claim. These are:
- Claiming from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)
- Claiming against your attacker directly
- Claiming against your employer
The majority of this guide will focus on claiming compensation from your employer, as this is often the best option available, but, depending on your circumstances, the other two should be considered.
Claiming from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (the CICA) operates a compensation scheme for people who have been injured through violent crime. Being assaulted at work will nearly always allow the possibility of a CICA claim, but there are a number of eligibility requirements which must be met – such as reporting the matter to the police and the injury lasting for at least 6 weeks, for example.
Instead of making a claim against anyone legally responsible for the attack, a CICA claim involves an application to the CICA for compensation. If you succeed, the CICA will pay compensation based on the injuries you have suffered.
The CICA scheme is generally more restrictive than ‘normal’ personal injury claims, in that many losses resulting from the injury may not be recoverable. Also, injury compensation is paid according to a fixed tariff, which tends to result in lower awards than in other kinds of personal injury claim.
CICA claims are also limited to shorter time limits than personal injury claims, so it is important to act quickly if you are considering a claim to avoid missing your chance. To find out more about these claims, visit our CICA Assault at Work Claims page.
Can I make a CICA claim as well as a personal injury claim?
It is possible to bring a CICA claim whilst also pursuing a more conventional personal injury claim. However, you will not be able to recover compensation twice for the same loss. Our CICA Assault at Work Claims page has some more information about this.
Claiming against your attacker directly
This might seem like the best option for a personal injury claim – given that your attacker is the one who has directly inflicted your injuries – but it is actually very rare for this to be viable in assault at work cases.
Legally, you are likely to have the strongest case against them, but practical difficulties often stand in the way. If you have been attacked by a member of the public, for example, you might not know who your attacker is or you might not be able to trace them. In other situations, it may serve no purpose to claim against them, as they would not have the funds to pay you the compensation you deserve.
However, if your attacker is known to you and is sufficiently wealthy (or they have applicable insurance cover), claiming from them directly may represent your best course of action.
Claiming against your employer
When a worker is carrying out their work, their employer is responsible for their safety. These obligations rightfully cover situations involving assaults and threats of violence at work.
If your employer has failed to take reasonable precautions for keeping you safe from attack whilst at work, their failure could mean they can be held legally responsible for the injuries you have sustained.
As mentioned above, the rest of this guide is focused on pursuing this option. We will look at what is needed to establish a claim against an employer in the ‘What is the legal basis for an assault at work claim?’ section below.
Will I lose my job if I claim from my employer?
You might be worried that making a claim against your employer could affect your relations with them. However, there are a couple of important points which might set your mind at ease:
- Your employer should have liability insurance. Any person or business which employs people is legally required to hold employer’s liability insurance. Failure to do so means facing hefty fines for the offending employer. More importantly, however, it means that the overwhelming majority of employers will be insured against the risk of a compensation claim from one of their employees, and so will not be paying your compensation themselves.
- There are legal protections against unfair dismissal. Making a compensation claim following an assault at work is an exercise of your legal rights. Whether your claim is successful or not, your employer cannot legitimately fire you for taking this action. To do so would be classed as unfair dismissal.
Which workers are most at risk from assaults at work?
Unfortunately, workers across a broad range of sectors, in a wide variety of roles, face the risks of being assaulted at work. Some of the sectors which face the greatest risks are looked at below:
Assaults on emergency workers
In 2018, legislation came into force creating a specific criminal offence for assaults on emergency workers.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows for increased sentences for those convicted of attacking emergency workers who are carrying out their duties. It covers workers who are:
- Police officers
- Prison officers
- Search and rescue personnel
- People providing face-to-face NHS health services i.e. doctors, nurses, paramedics
The new law reflects the serious risks of assault emergency workers encounter on a daily basis. Figures from the Crown Prosecution Service also indicated that, during the first year of it being in force, there were more than 50 prosecutions per day under the Act’s provisions.
Assaults on retail/shop workers
Shop and retail workers are in near-constant contact with the public in their roles. This brings with it risks which many people might find surprising. Some key trigger points for assaults on shop workers are:
- Attempted robberies
- Enforcement of age limits for the sale of restricted items
- Encountering thefts
- Dealing with intoxicated customers
- Dealing with customers with mental health issues
A 2020 survey by the British Retail Consortium found that, on average, there were 424 violent or abusive incidents per day against retail workers. This was based on nearly 155,000 reported incidents over the course of the year. The survey also noted that this represented an increase of around 9% on figures from 2017/2018.
More recently, there is evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an increase in abusive incidents. In a survey by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), 76% of respondents said that abuse had been worse than normal during this time.
Assaults on security workers
Security workers (including bouncers and door-staff) perform critical functions keeping others safe and, though the role itself carries potential risks of assault, this does not mean an employer is justified in neglecting the safety of its staff. If anything, the risks inherent in security work imposes a higher standard upon employers, because there is a greater likelihood that failings could so easily result in assaults and injury.
Some key examples of how an employer can fail their security workers include:
- Arranging insufficient staff numbers for a given task or situation
- Providing inadequate training on how to restrain or control violent behaviour
- Providing insufficient or inadequate personal protective equipment
Assaults on teachers
Teaching is a profession which, on the face of it, should not involve risks of an assault at work. However, a survey in 2019 by the teachers’ union NASUWT found that, of the 5,500 teachers responding, a significant proportion (14%) had been physically assaulted by pupils. Over half (57%) said that they had been subjected to verbal abuse.
There also appears to be a sense amongst the profession that they are not supported by management and employers when such incidents are possible (our blog post from May 2019 covering assaults at work in the news touched on this).
If you are a teacher who has been assaulted by a student, employer inaction or disregard for known risks can be a strong basis for a claim. One example would be ignoring risks posed by certain students – who may have a history of violent or aggressive behaviour – and failing to take sufficient precautions or failing to inform the staff around them. Insufficient staffing numbers and inadequate risk assessments are also common ways in which an employer may fail to take care of its teachers.
Assaults on healthcare workers, doctors and nurses
Healthcare workers are often placed in some of the most vulnerable situations when it comes to assaults at work. Roles normally involve high levels of public contact, and patients or service-users may be agitated, aggressive, and/or suffering from mental health conditions.
The risks that healthcare workers face are widely acknowledged. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, wrote an open letter in February 2020, pledging to reduce the levels of violence experienced by NHS staff. He cited data suggesting that 15% had experienced physical violence from the public and patients in 2018/2019, and that amongst ambulance staff this proportion was much higher, at 34%.
Whether you are employed by a private healthcare provider or the NHS, your employer is still responsible for taking all reasonable measures to ensure your safety.
Assaults on taxi drivers
Taxi drivers are at a high risk of being assaulted during the course of their work. The combination of working alone, often late at night, and in constant contact with members of the public, creates the potential for attacks to occur.
If you are employed as a taxi driver, your employer should take reasonable precautions to ensure your safety. This may include:
- Assessing the risks you face based on your work patterns
- Fitting your taxi with appropriate safety features (such as protective screens between the front seats and the rear passenger seats)
- Providing safety training
- Adopting safer systems of working (such as only allowing card payments so you are not carrying cash)
However, if you are driving for a taxi company, your employment relationship may not be as straightforward as employer and employee. Our blog on employment status, which also covers some of the legal questions that Uber faced in this regard, explores the topic in some detail. However, it is always recommended to seek advice about your own particular situation from a specialist personal injury solicitor.
What is the legal basis for an assault at work claim?
To be successful in any compensation claim, it is necessary to show that the person or organisation you are claiming from (known as the defendant) is legally responsible for the injuries, losses, and other harm you have suffered.
With an assault at work claim, you are trying to establish that your employer was negligent: i.e. that they did – or did not do – something which led to you being injured in the attack. This can be challenging. Your employer is not the one who assaulted you directly and so building a legal case to show how they were responsible in other ways can often present obstacles.
As the person making the claim, it will be for you (and your legal representatives) to prove each of the legal elements necessary to bear out the claim. These are, that:
- Your employer owed you a duty of care
- Your employer breached that duty of care
- The breach caused you to suffer damage
- This damage is recoverable
We’ll explain each of the elements in more detail below.
Areas of dispute
It may be that not all of the above elements will be disputed by the defendant in your case. For example, your employer may accept that they breached their duty of care, but argue that this did not lead to your injuries. In other cases, a defendant may accept they are fully responsible and just require evidence of the damage suffered.
Every case needs the theoretical elements in place to be successful, but when some, or possibly even most, of them are accepted by a defendant, it narrows the areas of dispute and makes a claim more straightforward.
Duty of care
A duty of care is a way in which the law recognises that some people owe certain responsibilities to others. Duties of care appear in many situations; generally where it is reasonably foreseeable that someone’s conduct could adversely affect someone else. For example, a doctor owes a duty of care to their patient, and road-users owe duties of care to other road-users.
It is well-established that employers owe a duty of care to their employees so this element is rarely a problem in assault at work claims.
Breach of duty
An employer’s duty is to take reasonable care of their employees’ safety and well-being. To prove there has been negligence, it is necessary to show that they failed in this duty.
With an assault at work claim, this will involve asking questions such as:
- Could or should your employer have anticipated the assault?
- Did they properly assess the risks of assault that their employees faced?
- Did they take reasonable protective action based on their risk assessments?
Reasonable action might include:
- Setting up and maintaining safe systems of work (such as avoiding employees working alone)
- Training staff (such as in effective restraint techniques)
- Informing staff of known risks where appropriate
- Providing adequate safety equipment (such as body protection, or protective screens)
However, there are limits to the steps an employer may be expected to take and you will notice that the word ‘reasonable’ appears a lot. When considering what is ‘reasonable’, courts will balance a number of factors – such as how effective certain safety measures might be, how practical it would be for an employer to implement them, and whether the known or anticipated risks to staff would justify their introduction.
Your employer’s breach of duty must have caused, or contributed to, your injuries and losses in order for your employer to be legally responsible. For example, your employer may have placed you alone in a situation which led to you being assaulted, where, had you had support from colleagues, this would likely not have happened.
Causation will involve questions such as:
- What might have been done differently by your employer?
- If they had done things differently, would that have prevented the assault or your injuries from occurring?
The harm you have suffered (your injuries and other losses from the assault) must be recoverable. This element is partially linked to causation as, to be able to recover compensation for your harm, your harm must be attributable to the assault. However, your losses must also be reasonable in extent and must not be too ‘remote’.
Remoteness is a legal concept used when looking at more unusual losses. In an assault at work claim, it would ask the question – ‘was it reasonably foreseeable that a person injured in such an attack would have incurred that loss?’ For most losses, this won’t be an issue (see the section below on ‘What can I claim compensation for?’) but it can curtail losses which are more extraordinary.
What if I have been assaulted at work by a colleague?
If you have been attacked by a colleague whilst you were at work, it may be possible to claim against your employer on the grounds of ‘vicarious liability’. Vicarious liability is a principle which can operate to hold an employer legally responsible for the conduct of their employees ‘during the course of their employment’.
How far this principle extends is a complicated matter. It can cover conduct which is beyond an employee’s strict work duties (and so can include situations where an employee has assaulted a colleague) but is unlikely to include situations such as workplace ‘pranks’ that have caused injury.
Each case will depend upon its own facts, however, so it is important to discuss this with your solicitor if a colleague has assaulted you. Vicarious liability may offer you an alternative avenue to claim against your employer.
What happens in an assault at work claim?
Much of the claims process will involve gathering the evidence needed to establish the legal elements of the claim (described above). Because assault at work cases rely heavily on their own facts, gathering detailed evidence is critical.
To show that your employer is legally responsible for the assault at work, it will often be necessary to gather evidence such as:
- The police report of the assault
- Your employer’s records of the incident
- Records of any previous incidents
- Records of any instructions that your employer gave you
- Your employer’s risk assessments
- Any employee guidance issued by your employer, such as handbooks, procedures, training materials etc.
- Witness statements
- CCTV footage
To prove and support the harm you have suffered because of the assault, other evidence will be required. This may include:
- Medical reports – to record and detail your injuries and establish what has been caused by the assault. This will involve attending one or more medical examinations with an independent medical expert
- Pay slips and bank statements – to prove any lost earnings
- Receipts and invoices for any expenses you have incurred because of the assault (see the section below on ‘What can I claim compensation for?’)
The standard of proof
You might wonder what standards you have to satisfy in order to prove a fact upon which you are relying. Courts in civil cases (such personal injury claims) will determine matters in dispute on a standard known as ‘the balance of probabilities’. This basically means that if something is proved as ‘more likely than not’ it will satisfy the required standard.
For example, if you are arguing that some protective equipment given to you was inadequate to keep you safe, and your employer argues otherwise, a court will resolve the issue based upon its assessment of the balance – i.e. which version is more likely.
Will my case go to court?
Most personal injury claims are resolved without a court hearing or trial taking place. However, if there are areas of dispute in your case, or you have suffered severe or long-lasting injuries, it may be necessary to start court proceedings.
Even then, however, it does not mean that a court hearing or trial will be needed to resolve the case – settlements can be agreed right up until the trial date. If they believe your claim could succeed, most defendants will prefer to compromise than face the uncertain outcome of a court hearing.
What can I do to help gather evidence and support my claim?
Most importantly: you should take care of your health and well-being, seeking medical attention as required. After this, your next highest priority should be to ensure the assault is reported to your employer and to the police.
Ensuring the matter is reported means that both your employer and the police will have a record of the assault taking place, which can be fundamental in supporting your claim.
When reporting to your employer, you should follow their incident reporting procedures as far as you can, so that they have full details of the attack and cannot raise objections as to how you acted in the aftermath.
Reporting the crime to the police is required for making a CICA Assault at Work claim, so if you are considering this option at all, you must take this step. Even if you aren’t, a police record of the assault, and a possible investigation, can be good evidence for your personal injury claim.
Some other tips which can assist you in making a claim include:
- Keeping receipts for any expenses you pay out due to your injuries
- Keeping a diary of your injuries and symptoms – this doesn’t have to be too detailed, but a contemporary record of how your symptoms progress and how they affect your life can be invaluable in helping you to remember these facts later in the claim
- Seeking legal advice early, and from a firm of solicitors which specialises in personal injury claims
If you would like further general information on the claims process, you can read our blog on what happens in a personal injury claim.
How much compensation will I receive for my injuries?
It’s natural to be curious about this when considering a personal injury claim. However, you should be very wary of quick answers given by ‘claims calculators’.
A valuation of an injury should look at:
- The pain and suffering which your injury has caused you
- The effect the injury has had on your enjoyment of life
Injury compensation is based upon the harm that you have suffered and so true valuations have to be founded on your circumstances and the medical evidence gathered on your injuries.
Unfortunately, this does mean that it may take some time before your injuries can be valued – usually after medical evidence has been obtained. That said, however, your solicitor will aim to give you an idea of valuation whenever possible and appropriate.
For more information on just how involved an accurate injury valuation can be, download our free ebook: The Ultimate Personal Injury Compensation Guide.
What can I claim compensation for?
An assault at work can cause you to suffer losses beyond your injuries alone. For many of these losses, you will be able to claim compensation alongside the harm caused by your injuries.
Generally speaking, you can include losses which have been caused by the assault, or which were a direct consequence of your injuries.
Some of the most common losses include:
- Medical expenses and treatment costs – incurred through treating your injuries or helping to ease your symptoms (e.g. physiotherapy sessions, painkillers, counselling)
- Lost earnings – from being unable to work as normal.
- Damaged items – this can include clothing, glasses, mobile phones and other personal belongings which have been damaged in the attack.
- Travel expenses – for journeys you make as a result of the accident.
- Care and assistance – where your injuries have restricted your ability to look after yourself. Even if this is provided by friends or relatives for free, you can often claim for care after a personal injury.
The list above contains just some of the losses you might experience following an assault at work. If you would like a comprehensive idea of the losses which may be claimed, download our free ebook: The Ultimate Personal Injury Compensation Guide.
Knowing about the many different losses which can be recovered in a personal injury claim allows you to begin gathering evidence to support the losses you have suffered. It may also help to jog your memory, or to prevent something you assume cannot be claimed from being overlooked.
Do assault at work claims take a long time?
Like all personal injury claims, it is very difficult to predict how long your assault at work claim might take without full details of your circumstances.
A case’s length can depend on many different things. For example, the injuries you have suffered can have a significant effect; more severe injuries will generally take longer to resolve and require more medical evidence to document. Also, your employer may be disputing aspects of your claim, and this will require additional evidence to be gathered or investigations to be made. On the other hand, if your employer has accepted most parts of your claim, it can reduce the time needed to complete the claim.
Is there a time limit for making an assault at work claim?
There are legal time limits for making personal injury claims and this also applies for assault at work claims. The general rule is that you must either settle your claim or start court proceedings within 3 years of the date of your injury. If you miss this deadline it can prevent you from claiming compensation.
However, there are some exceptions to this, and courts can allow claims to proceed beyond the legal deadline if there are good reasons that the claim could not be made sooner.
The best course of action, if you are considering a claim or are worried about missing the time limit, is to seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible.
Important Note: CICA claims have shorter time limits than personal injury claims. Read our page on CICA Assault at Work Claims for details.
Assault at work claims are a highly specialised area of personal injury law, so if you are thinking about starting a claim, you need to know which solicitors are right for the job.
Truth Legal has personal injury solicitors dedicated to assault at work claims, with expertise you can rely upon. Please just get in touch to chat with them about your case. They would be happy to look at your situation and there is no pressure for you to proceed any further.
Or, to read more about assault at work claims, we have a series of blogs covering assault at work claims featured in the news, and you can also have a look at our pages for Assault at Work Claims and CICA Assault at work claims.