Hit By A Coworker But I’m Being Blamed!

Question:

I was hit by a coworker. Now, they are lying saying I was using profanities, which is why she hit me. Can I be forced to work with her? She will just hit me again. I’m too scared to return to work and right now I’m off on injury due to six herniated discs that she reinjured.

Signed,

Frightened


Answer:

Dear Frightened:

There certainly seems to be something odd and wrong about this entire situation. It sounds as though there is a lot of conflict going on at work, in addition to workplace violence that isn’t being taken seriously.

I think the two of you must have had an ongoing conflict, but for the purpose of this response I’m going to focus only on the assault that injured you–and I’ll take your word for it that it was bad enough for you to be injured.

I can well understand your fear to return to work if you think the coworker who hit you will do it again without provocation. What seems unclear is why she hit you, how hard were you hit and if it was so serious that there was a crime.

If you were injured, a crime occurred and the police should have been called. Now it’s probably too late because it would give the appearance to a court that the matter wasn’t viewed as an assault at the time. However, that is still something that can’t be ruled out. Consider talking to a city attorney or district attorney about whether there are enough elements to charge the assaulter with a crime.

That’s a big step and will require witnesses to the assault, but may be the way you want to go with it to ensure your safety in the future.

If you think you will continue to suffer from the attack you may want to talk to an attorney about your options for suing the business or the person, for expenses related to your injury.

The fact is that no matter what is said, there is no justification for hitting someone, certainly not hard enough to hurt them. It seems almost impossible to believe that a business would tolerate a physical attack of that nature.

According to the type of work you do, it may be that there is no way to have you and her working separately. If that is the case, they would have to fire one or both of you to make it where there was no more problems. The feeling apparently is that you said things that goaded the other person into an attack. You deny that. Clearly something was going on that was unpleasant and it involved both of you.

Try this as an option:

1. Send an email or letter to your supervisor at work, with a copy to HR if there is such a section (a larger business would have an HR unit, but you don’t say what kind of business is involved.) In the letter say that you want to come back to work when you are no longer in pain from the re-injury to your back, but you are afraid to work around your coworker.

You would use your own style of writing, but this might be something you would say:

“Workplace violence is in the news all the time and when it happens people start blaming victims, just like has happened to me. Nothing justifies hitting someone and hurting someone and Lisa should not be allowed to get by with that. She should be told that she can’t hit someone ever again, no matter what words are said. None of us should have to work in fear that we’ll be injured or even killed by someone who gets angry about what is said to them. Now, I’m very afraid to come back to work for fear of what she might do. I think she’ll assault and injure me again, no matter how hard I try to get along with her. The only way I’ll feel safe is if I know that I either don’t have to work around her or that the situation will be watched and she will never be allowed to assault me or anyone else again.” You might also want to add that you would welcome help from the supervisor to resolve the conflict that led to the incident. Whether or not you used profanity there was clearly a verbal altercation. You should not be involved in that again. If there is a conflict that is that severe, go to your supervisor about it.

The bottom line is that you are working in a situation where there is conflict that has been allowed to develop. I don’t know what led to the situation you describe, but it was wrong for the coworker to hit you and wrong of the business if they don’t discipline her in some way or fire her. They should also do something specific to resolve the ongoing conflict or prevent the two of you from working together.

I’m hoping they will have realized all of that and will work with you to make the place safer but also to clear up whatever was causing the conflict in the workplace. One thing is for sure: Now you know that even angry words might create a harmful situation. You can either quit that workplace to get to a place that is safer or you can be vigilant to make sure the conversation doesn’t get to a boiling point. If you see anger developing, go to your supervisor immediately. Whether you’re in the right or not, that won’t be much help to know, if you’re hurt by an angry coworker again.

Seek help from higher in the business if possible. Or, see if you need help from the police or from an attorney. At the very least, seek help from your supervisor. You know your situation best and what is most likely to get the matter resolved.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.