Can company be liable if a normally mild-mannered employee acts out violently?


One of your employees, who has never been known to be particularly threatening, has been in a bad mood lately for unknown reasons. Recently, when discussing politics, he raised his voice and got face-to-face with a coworker, causing other employees to be concerned that he is capable of violence. He never actually touched anyone in anger and has no known history of violence. Can the company be held liable if he actually hurts someone while at work?


Yes, but the basis for and extent of liability depends on the circumstances. If the employee hurts a coworker, then workers’ compensation is normally the exclusive remedy against an employer. If a third party is injured, the employer may face liability under tort theories, such as negligent hiring or retention.

The issues in such cases are often whether the violent behavior was foreseeable and whether the employer took reasonable measures to prevent it. With this in mind, employers should take proactive steps to reduce the risk of workplace violence. One measure is to create a policy that includes an effort to mitigate violence; a definition of the various elements of workplace violence; and a strategy for detection, reporting, and diffusion of potentially hostile situations. Including a risk analysis program in the violence policy is vital for identifying potentially hostile situations.

Source: Further information on how to reduce the likelihood of violence in the workplace is available from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration at

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