Continuing our series of blog posts, we look at what’s been in the news relating to assaults at work and the law surrounding them.

The importance of worker protections

The horrific account of a worker’s treatment in Bangladesh shows how vitally important robust legal protection is against assaults at work.

The Guardian reported that the worker – who had been working for a clothes factory supplying a number of high profile UK companies, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Mothercare – was subjected to brutal violence and threats on the orders of factory management, allegedly with the involvement of the local police.

She had been a member of the factory’s anti-harassment committee, and was one of several workers who were forced to sign resignation letters by the factory management. However, she stated that she was held back after signing her letter, beaten up, robbed of the severance pay she had been given, and threatened with death if she protested.

The factory initially denied the allegations but, after pressure from the Fair Wear Foundation, sacked the HR manager involved and paid the woman compensation worth around £630.

Would this be a more familiar story in the UK without strong legal protection for workers?

Young workers’ vulnerability to assaults at work

Assaults at work like the extreme example above are not just perpetrated by bosses or colleagues. A report by the TUC suggests young workers are disproportionately at risk from assaults, or verbal and physical abuse, from third-parties.

The data collected indicates that 36% of 18 to 34 year olds had experienced some form of harassment, abuse or violence at work, and that the perpetrator was a third-party. The report put forward several reasons why younger workers may be at greater risk. These included consideration that younger workers are generally in a weaker position in the labour market, working in lower paid and less secure jobs, with a high proportion of these jobs involving extensive contact with customers and the public.

Findings in the report also indicated assaults or abuse were recurrent problems for those affected. 70% of the workers surveyed who experienced verbal abuse from third-parties had been subjected to it three or more times. And for physical assault or violence, 50% of the young workers who had experienced it had been subjected to it three or more times.

The report also paints a bleak picture of how young workers view any possible follow-up action from their employers. Less than half reported their most recent instance of violence or abuse from a third-party to their employer. Of the surveyed workers who did report the matter to their employers, 76% said that nothing changed afterwards, or that the situation got worse.

However, if you are a young worker who has been assaulted at work, it is important to report it to your manager in line with your workplace’s reporting procedures. Your employers are under a legal duty to do all that is reasonable to keep you safe whilst at work. Reporting the incident, whether they take action or not, is the first step to protecting your legal rights – it records that the incident took place and that your employers were made aware of it.

If you need to speak about any assaults you have suffered at work, please feel free to contact Truth Legal for friendly and helpful advice.

Moves to increase legal protection for shopworkers

Changes to the Offensive Weapon Bill are currently being debated in the House of Lords, with the proposal to create a new offence in relation to abusing, threatening or assaulting shop workers who refuse to sell restricted goods to customers.

The Bill adds a number of further restrictions on selling certain items, such as knives and corrosive chemicals. The union USDAW have been pushing for the new offence to be created to give added protection to retail workers who have to ‘enforce’ these new provisions on the front lines.

USDAW’s general secretary, Paddy Lillis stated:

 “We need a better balance in the law. The existing offence of common assault is not enough, because it is rarely used and difficult to prove in cases of verbal abuse and threats. A specific offence of obstructing a retail worker who is enforcing the law, which is easily understood by employers, staff, police, judiciary, shoppers and most of all violent criminals is absolutely necessary.”

Whilst the proposed changes add a criminal offence rather than a civil law cause of action, victims of criminal offences may make a Criminal Injuries Compensation Claim for physical and psychological harm they suffer as a result of a crime. Additionally, employers will continue to have their legal duty to keep their workers as safe as possible whilst in the workplace.

Rail workers facing increased challenges

Statistics from the British Transport police reveal the increasing dangers faced by rail workers, particularly over the festive period.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that, between 24th November 2018 and 2nd January 2019, there were 189 cases of violent offences fuelled by alcohol against other passengers and rail staff. This was more than twice the number of incidents during the same period two years before.

Mick Cash, the general secretary of the RMT union gave his opinion on the reasons behind the increased threats rail workers encountered at work:

“The move to create a faceless, de-staffed railway in the name of profit has created a toxic environment where our members too often end up as the punch bags as drunken thugs run rampage.”

If you have been affected by an assault at work, get in touch with Truth Legal for expert employment law and personal injury advice.

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Catherine Reynolds
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