It is difficult to determine how extensive workplace violence is in California and across the United States, but we read about it far too frequently. In a typical news story about workplace violence, a disgruntled ex-employee returns to the job site and goes on a shooting spree.

It’s frightening. Do employers have any obligation, responsibility, or liability for workplace violence? If you’re injured in one of these incidents, how can you be compensated? Are there steps that employers can take to reduce workplace violence – or eliminate it entirely?

You’re about to learn those answers and more.

A recent shooting at YouTube’s San Bruno campus ended with the shooter injuring three and killing herself. In March, a man killed his ex-wife at her workplace in a shopping mall in Thousand Oaks.

WHAT DO THE STATISTICS TELL US ABOUT WORKPLACE VIOLENCE?

In the state of California, workplace violence is a genuine and growing public concern.

The most recent statistics tell us that more than 2 million people in the U.S. are victims of a workplace violence incident each year. Shootings are what make the headlines, although assaults and other incidents of violence are far more frequent and potentially just as dangerous.

Can employers be held liable for injuries sustained by their employees in incidents of workplace violence? The best answer is, “It depends.”

No federal laws or regulations require employers to have any plan for preventing or responding to workplace violence.

WHAT DOES FEDERAL AND STATE LAW REQUIRE?

However, both federal and state laws compel employers to ensure a reasonably safe work environment that is free of known hazards and known dangerous conditions.

As a general rule, if you are injured by violence in the workplace in California, you will qualify for workers’ compensation benefits – just as if you had suffered any other type of workplace injury.

Workers’ compensation in California will usually cover your medical expenses after a work-related injury, and it partially replaces your lost wages while you are recuperating.

IS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AN INJURED EMPLOYEE’S ONLY OPTION?

However, if you are injured in an incident of workplace violence, don’t simply presume that the employer is fully shielded from liability. There are a number of possible exceptions that might allow you to take legal action directly against the employer.

If workplace violence happens and you are injured, discuss your rights and options at once with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney.

Workplace violence cases can be quite complicated legally, but those complications may provide the injured with additional sources of compensation.

For example, the details of a workplace violence incident must be compared against the exceptions to the shield against liability that workers’ compensation provides to employers.

WHEN CAN EMPLOYERS BE SUED FOR NEGLIGENCE?

You cannot file an injury lawsuit against an employer if you’re injured in the “course and scope” of your job duties, even if the employer was in fact negligent and was responsible for your personal injury or injuries.

However, California lawmakers have established several exceptions to the shield against liability that workers’ compensation provides to employers.

For example, particular types of intentional employer misconduct may expose an employer to liability beyond workers’ compensation if it is intentional conduct which is not a normal risk of employment or is contrary to an employee’s reasonable expectation of physical safety.

This may include egregiously inappropriate behaviors like striking an employee or ordering an employee to work in an area that has been declared – or that is obviously – unsafe.

WHAT ABOUT AN EMPLOYER’S HIRING PRACTICES?

An employer has a duty of “reasonable care” to protect employees, as far as reasonably possible, from potentially dangerous individuals.

Let’s say that your employer is negligent regarding background checks and hires someone with a history of violence and criminal convictions. If that person commits workplace violence that injures you, the employer could be held accountable for negligent hiring or negligent retention.

What’s imperative is speaking with an attorney at once if you have been injured by workplace violence. You’re reading a general overview of workplace violence, but every case is unique and will require the insights and advice of an employment or personal injury lawyer.

WHO COMMITS WORKPLACE VIOLENCE?

The fact is that most workplace violence is not committed by employees or ex-employees but by non-employees like robbers and stalkers. If you work for a business where you meet the public, you are at risk for this kind of violence.

In California, if you are injured at your place of work by a non-employee, speak at once with a skilled employment rights attorney.

While you have the right to sue someone who injures you, the fact is that robbers and stalkers usually have little in the way of resources, and whatever resources they have will probably be used for their criminal defense.

A personal injury or employment rights attorney can help you determine what legal steps you should take in these cases.

HOW ARE EMPLOYERS RESPONDING TO WORKPLACE VIOLENCE?

Many California employers have recognized the necessity of addressing workplace violence and have established policies that require employee training in workplace violence response, conducting mock training exercises, and adopting an emergency action plan.

An emergency response plan should clearly and directly tell workers how to react to an incident of workplace violence. Unfortunately, some California employers still have no plan in place, or their plan is outdated and needs to address a wider variety of threats.

There is no way to know when workplace violence is going to happen. Especially if employees meet the public, they should be trained to be vigilant, alert, and prepared.

Employers may need to consult with security experts to create an emergency action plan. There’s no reason to think that workplace violence is going to decrease or go away anytime soon.

Some employers may need to consult with an employment rights lawyer to understand what steps are necessary.

IF YOU ARE INJURED ON THE JOB, HOW CAN AN ATTORNEY HELP?

If you are injured by violence at your own place of work, discuss your options with a qualified personal injury or employment attorney. Your attorney will help you determine who is legally accountable for your injuries and what legal steps you should take.

Work is a basic part of life. It’s the way we care for ourselves and the people we love. If you are injured by violence in the workplace, let an attorney help you fight for the justice you deserve. That is your right.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.