Q: I own a care home. Recently a member of staff was assaulted by a relative of a resident. Other members of staff say that as her employer, I didn’t take the correct steps to protect her and I will be liable for damages if she goes to court. Is this correct and what can I do to protect my staff in this situation?
Your staff are right; as the owner, you are under a duty of care to provide your staff with a safe place of work, and this extends to taking reasonable steps to ensure they are safe from harm caused either by patients or their relatives. If your employee does choose to pursue you for damages, the onus will be on her to prove that you failed to take reasonable care of her safety. If she can show this, and that this breach of duty led to the attack, the courts will order you to pay her damages for personal injury and losses suffered as a result of the incident.
However, her conduct will also be deemed relevant by the courts. If the judge finds that you had safety procedures in place and took steps to ensure these were followed but she wilfully failed to do so, then any damages will be reduced accordingly.
To prevent a recurrence of this assault, you should ensure that risk assessments are in place to cover any eventualities that may result in employees being harmed, including the risks posed by visitors or relatives of residents. After these risks have been identified, control measures must be implemented to reduce them. For example, ensure that more than one member of staff is present when dealing with relatives or visitors. Other measures could include:
- Implementing set procedures for employees to follow when dealing with patients and relatives
- Providing all staff with initial training and refresher training on the procedures outlined
- Ensuring that the procedures are enforced
- Training staff in conflict management, so that they can better defuse violent situations
- Providing all staff with personal safety alarms which a ‘rapid response’ team (consisting of other members of staff) will respond to when activated.
All risk assessments, control measures and safety procedures should be reviewed following an incident, as well as on an annual basis.
Laura Kearsley, associate in the employment team and Kathleen Potter, solicitor in the workplace safety team at law firm Weightmans LLP