The case of Steven Woolfe, the prospective Ukip leader who was hospitalised after an alleged altercation with a colleague, appeared all the more shocking because politics, although rough in words and bruising in psychology, does not tend towards violence.
This is compared to other jobs where forms of aggression are not infrequent – the police, prison services, care givers – where dealing with violence is built into expectations and mitigating by the supply of personal protection and suitable training by the employer.
There are always the civil and legal systems for the victim of an attack to seek recompense from his attacker – but what about the employer? In an ordinary office environment where confrontation is rare and violence rarer still, to what extent does an employer become liable if you are attacked in the office by a colleague out of the blue?
The Health And Safety At Work etc Act 1974 says that employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
The Management Of Health And Safety At Work Regulations 1999 say employers must assess the risks to employees and make arrangements for their health and safety by effective planning; organisation; control; monitoring and review.
Employers are also obliged to keep accurate and up-to-date records of accidents and injuries, including those caused by violence. These might become crucial if an employer is subject to a case for negligence.
In other words, if a particular employee (the aggressor) or a particular circumstance (cash-handling, for example) were seen to be a magnet for trouble and the employer had not put in place remedial measures, then the employer might appear more liable than otherwise.
Foreseeable risk might include working alone, ignoring previous behaviour and lack of training etc although it is fair to suggest that most cases that succeed in obtaining compensation are in jobs where employers have failed to mitigate for known risks – ie attacks in hospitals, prisons and care facilities.
Meanwhile, an employer, as part of its duty of care, should be able to offer help after the event and instigate a disciplinary investigation into possible gross misconduct.
A senior prison officer whose career was ended after he suffered severe physical and mental injuries in a stabbing assault by an inmate received £35,000 in compensation from HMP Swaleside in 2014.
The inmate had previously expressed extremist views, was planning an escape, had requested a metal knife from staff and his behaviour had aroused suspicion.
This type of behaviour should have meant he was escorted by three members of staff, not two, which management failed to implement.
The Woolfe incident
- Ukip MEP Steve Woolfe collapsed on the floor and spent a few nights in hospital after a seizure.
- The other man in the dispute, Mike Hookem, Ukip’s defence spokesman, denied punching him, only conceding they wrestled “like a pair of tarts”.
- Mr Woolfe said Mr Hookem “came at me and landed a blow”.