Weekly dilemma: Violent attacks on staff

I am the HR manager at a company that operates local convenience stores. Four weeks ago, one store fell victim to an armed robbery. The two assistants were held up at knifepoint and cash and cigarettes were taken. Luckily no-one was injured, but both women were understandably shaken up. In line with company policy, I offered the women counselling, but both refused. One has still not returned to work, citing stress from the incident as the reason. What should I do next?

Violent crime in the retail sector continues to be a problem and local stores offering longer trading hours are particularly at risk.

Increasingly, rather than pursuing a claim against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, employees are making civil claims against their employers, claiming that they could have done more to protect them against these attacks. Therefore, these incidents and their aftermath need to be handled carefully.

While it is imperative and, as you say, your company’s policy to offer counselling to your employees if they have been subjected to violence at work, you cannot force your employees to undertake treatment. All you can do is emphasise the benefits.

Make sure that you have kept a written record of the offer of counselling and repeat the offer after an appropriate period of time. Point out that counselling may assist the employee in returning to full fitness and to work.

With the back up of counselling you should, if possible, offer a change in workplace as the shop where the attack took place may bring back bad memories for the employee. Another option is to offer a staged return to work, gradually building up to the hours the employee worked prior to the attack.

If you later receive a civil claim for damages from this employee, her refusal to attend counselling may be used as evidence of her failure to treat her illness. One word of warning though: the employee may say that she did not want to re-live the events and that is the reason why she refused – an accepted symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder – and it is unlikely that a judge would find her refusal unreasonable.

By Sarah Temperley, associate, Weightmans

Each week we ask the experts to answer your legal dilemmas. If you have a legal question or dilemma, e-mail dawn.spalding@rbi.co.uk

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