When Push Comes to Shove . . . in the Workplace
By Anthony A. Baucco
He who can suppress a moment’s anger may prevent a day of sorrow.
- Tryon Edwards (1809-1894)
The workplace is filled with many diverse people with different backgrounds and personalities. That being the case, it can be difficult to get along with your co-workers, especially when working in close proximity to each other on an everyday basis. Tempers may flare up and inconsiderate words may be exchanged from time to time. Unfortunately, these disagreements don’t always end with a peaceful resolution, or with both feuding parties retreating to their respective work areas to brood over what has just transpired. Occasionally, a heated disagreement in the workplace will unfortunately escalate into a physical confrontation and one party will be injured in the fight. Is this a compensable injury?
Ohio courts have consistently focused on two separate factors in determining whether or not the injury is compensable. An injury will be deemed compensable if the origin of the fight was work-related and if the injured worker bringing the claim was not the instigator of the fight. An injury is compensable only if both findings are made.
Deciding whether or not a fight is work-related can sometimes be a difficult analysis. Ohio courts will oftentimes analyze the proximity of the scene of the fight to the place of employment, the degree of control the employer had over the scene of the fight and the benefit the employer received from the injured worker’s presence at the scene of the fight. Furthermore, Ohio courts have also been known to analyze whether the cause of the fight was due to a personal animosity or domestic matter between the parties, completely independent of and unrelated to the injured worker’s employment. Ohio courts will also look at the entire conflict from beginning to end, to determine if one continuous work-related conflict occurred. There may be a break in the initial disagreement and the reason for the subsequent argument and physical confrontation may no longer be considered work-related, but personal.
Likewise, deciding whether or not an injured worker is the instigator of the fight may also be difficult. Ohio courts have never provided a comprehensive definition of the term “instigate” for the purposes of workplace fights. However, a recent Ohio case defined the word as according to common usage. The court indicated that “instigate” is defined as to goad or incite someone to take action or course. It has also been defined as language which would have a tendency to provoke an assault. Whether or not the injured worker instigated the fight will therefore turn on the specific facts of the conflict, when viewed in totality from beginning to end.
Workers’ compensation claims stemming from workplace fights are usually complicated and involve significant factual issues. It is therefore important to immediately procure witness statements and incident reports following the fight, in addition to following normal post-accident procedure.
Let’s hope your workplace doesn’t host the next Wrestlemania, but should you have any questions regarding claims stemming from workplace fights, please contact Tony or any of the workers’ compensation attorneys at RBS.