Can employers ever defend cases where an employee is assaulted in the course of their duties? The answer is ‘yes’ and it is reassuring that courts are taking a sensible approach when an employer has thoroughly assessed the risk to an employee, provided training and enforced safe systems.
If an incident occurs, as with all claims for injury, an employee needs to show that the injury occurred because the defendant, in this case the employer, breached its duty of care.
We defended a claim for compensation made by an employee of a council day centre, following an injury he sustained following an assault by a prospective service user. At the time the claimant was employed as an adult day services support worker at a centre used for adults with complex needs and learning disabilities.
The assailant was a young man (‘X’) transitioning from school to the day centre. During the transition visits he was accompanied by his school support workers. On the day of incident X became distressed and aggressive. He grabbed one of the school support workers by the hair and refused to release her. The claimant attempted to intervene and in response, X bit the claimant’s arm.
The key questions for the court to determine were;
- whether there was an adequate assessment of the risk posed by X during his visits to the centre.
- whether the injured employee had been given sufficient information about the potential for challenging behaviours, suitable and sufficient training to respond to situations of this nature.
Extensive documentation was provided by the day centre, detailing the on-going assessment process in place during the transition period. Crucially staff, including the claimant, had been instructed to observe only. The claimant’s training record showed he had received appropriate training in responding to challenging behaviour and he had been had been asked to read X’s file prior to his observations.
At trial the Judge found that the council had discharged its duty to the claimant by providing a safe place of work and a safe system of work. It was also held that the claimant had been provided with adequate training and with a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks relevant to the shadowing exercise he was to undertake.
This is a sensible decision by the court. The evidence was key to a successful defence of this claim. The risk of injury to employees had been assessed and to address this, staff were deployed to only take an observational and shadowing role. The claimant’s decision to intervene could not be attributed to any negligent actions on the part of the council.