When assault in the workplace turns deadly, an employer can be held liable if the employer’s negligence or intentional conduct contributed to the assault and death. Many fatal workplace assaults could have been prevented if employers took the right steps before the conflict escalated. An appellate court recently said that an Illinois employer could face a lawsuit after an employee was murdered by a supervisor.
Assault is one of the leading causes of workplace deaths in the United States. Many of the attacks are preventable.
A USA Today analysis of fatal workplace violence found that attackers left behind clear warning signs in most cases. Most companies downplayed, misjudged, or ignored the threat. Fatal workplace violence rarely occurs without warning. Tensions usually build, and several series of behaviors reveal conflicts that could lead to an attack.
Employers have a legal duty to provide their employees with a safe work environment. In Chicago, wrongful death attorneys can help people file lawsuits against employers if a family member dies and an employer’s negligence contributed to the workplace assault and fatal injury. One could file a lawsuit based on negligence if the employer knew that an assault was probable but failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.
For example, an employer may fail to take action on an employee’s complaints about a fellow employee’s threatening behavior. If the employee resorts to assault that turns deadly, the employer could be liable.
Employers can be held liable due to negligent hiring of dangerous workers. They can also be held responsible for a victim’s fatal injuries if their intentional conduct played a role in the assault.
In Illinois, an appellate court allowed a mother to proceed with a lawsuit against Home Depot, her daughter’s employer, for sexual harassment that resulted in her daughter’s fatal strangulation. The deceased woman had repeatedly complained about her supervisor’s conduct to her manager.
The supervisor’s conduct included calling the woman names in front of customers, slamming and throwing things, making her share a room with him during a business trip, and angrily reacting to her pregnancy. The supervisor eventually strangled the woman and raped the corpse.
The court applied existing Illinois law and held that the employer knew or should have foreseen that the supervisor posed a danger to others. The employer retained the supervisor despite the unfitness, which eventually caused the woman’s death. His conduct indicated the probability of future violence.