Assault & battery suits an emerging legal risk

While you likely have a grasp on the definition of unlawful harassment and discrimination, have you thought about what constitutes assault and battery in the workplace? It is becoming an important concept for HR professionals to learn.

Employees’ attorneys these days are filing an increasing number of state-law assault claims based on conduct similar to that which gives rise to basic harassment suits.

“Civil assault is typically defined as an instance in which a person demonstrates the intent to hurt another and the victim believes that he or she will be hurt. There is no requirement of actual contact or physical injury,” writes Fisher & Phillips attorney Michael Elkon in a Society for Human Resource Management report. “Thus, an assault claim can be hard for an employer to disprove.”

How to respond? Elkon urges HR professionals to:

Listen for important terms from employees that could signal assault claims, such as fear or any kind of physical contact.

Ask the right questions, such as “Were you actually touched?” “Did you feel in danger?” and “Do you need to speak with a doctor?”

Use the trend as a training tool. Make sure supervisors understand why they must avoid threatening comments, fear-inducing behavior and physical contact with employees.