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Violence in the workplace is a major problem in this country, and sexual abuse/assault is no exception. In general, workplace sexual assaults tend to involve 3 situations:

  1. sexual assault by a stranger,
  2. sexual assault by a co-worker or other member of the workplace, and
  3. sexual assault by someone known to the victim, but who is not associated with the workplace.

Workplace Sexual Assault by a Co-Worker or Other Member of the Workplace

In general, sexual violence is often perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Family members, friends, etc., are common perpetrators of sexual assault or abuse. Co-workers and other members of the workplace, such as maintenance workers, may also be perpetrators. For example, a worker is sexually assaulted by a co-worker in the parking lot, or a worker who is working late one night is lured to another area by a maintenance worker and sexually assaulted.

Related: Resolving a Civil Sex Abuse Lawsuit

Workplace Sexual Assault by a Known Assailant, but Non-Member of the Workplace

In some instances, a worker’s personal life may carry over into the work life. Someone known to the victim, such as a boyfriend, friend, etc., may obtain entry to the workplace and commit a sexual assault. For example, an ex-boyfriend begins stalking a victim at home and work. One night, he gains entry into the victim’s workplace and sexually assaults her.

Civil Liability in Workplace Sexual Assault Cases

In many workplace sexual assault cases, victims may be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits for medical/psychological treatment and disability (work loss) caused by the injuries. However, there are some situations in which a victim will be unable to make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In PA, for example, if the assault was personal to the victim and unrelated to the job duties, the assault may be determined to be outside the course and scope of employment and therefore, the victim may be prevented from receiving workers’ comp benefits.

Related: Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Benefits – Assaults/Robberies at Work

However, there may be other avenues to obtain justice in workplace sexual assault cases. For instance, there may be a valid sexual harassment case where a co-worker sexually assaults a fellow worker, or an employer may be held liable for failing to prevent a sexual assault.

It is important to note that while in general, workers are prevented from suing their employers for injuries which occur while at work, there are some exceptions to this rule. In workplace sexual assault cases, one of the most commonly litigated exceptions involves sexual violence where the employer knew of the risk, yet failed to take any steps to protect the victim.

For instance, a worker in Maryland was allowed to sue her employer for forcing her to work in an isolated area where she was then kidnapped and raped by her ex. There was evidence that the employer assigned the victim to work in an isolated area despite knowing that she had been threatened and had a restraining order against the ex-boyfriend. The employer therefore acted with a deliberate intent to injure under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. Gantt v. Security USA, Inc., 2004 4th Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina).

Representation by a Former Sex Crimes Unit Prosecutor

Mr. Kent is a former prosecutor who worked in the Sex Crimes Unit of the Montgomery County (Norristown, PA) District Attorney’s Office. He now represents sex abuse victims in civil cases. Please call for a free consultation. Click To Call

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