The terms "assault" and "battery" are used interchangeably by many people, but each has its own legal definition. In civil (non-criminal) law, a "battery" occurs any time a person is touched by another person or object without that person's consent. An "assault" occurs when one person attempts to touch a person either with his body or an object without that person's consent. If someone swings his fist at you and misses, you have been assaulted. If someone swings at you and hits you in the face, you have been battered (again, for the purposes of civil law).
If you have been assaulted or battered by someone at work, you can sue that person for your injuries. Under some circumstances, your employer may also be responsible to you for an assault committed by a supervisor or other employee in the course of his or her duties. In the context of employment terminations, an unlawful battery can occur when a security guard forcefully removes an employee from the premises by making physical contact with the employee or shoves the employee into his or her desk or locker while the employee is trying to gather personal belongings.
Your employer can also be held responsible under discrimination laws for a battery committed by someone who harasses you on account of your sex, age, race, disability, color, or national origin if the harasser's conduct becomes physical. If you complained to your employer about the harassment before it became physical and your employer failed to stop the harassment, some states allow recovery against your employer for the physical battery.
Generally, if you are injured at work by another employee, whether your co-worker intended to injure you or not, you are entitled to "workers' compensation" for your injuries and lost work time. If an employee is seriously injured by another employee, the workers' compensation system may not provide sufficient monetary support for the loss of income, and it usually doesn't provide any compensation for "pain and suffering." If you prove that your employer is responsible for injuries sustained in an assault at work, you can recover "pain and suffering" damages and punitive damages-which might be substantial.
This page was updated on January 12, 2006