Can I claim compensation for assault by an employee?

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Lawyer Elizabeth Duncan is often asked, ‘Can I claim compensation for assault by an employee?’ In this short case study she looks at a claim she pursued on behalf of a client who was assaulted by a shop worker.

Many people do not realise that if they are assaulted by someone who is working at the time the assault takes place then their attacker’s employer is likely to be legally liable for the assault and could be required to pay you compensation. This applies to shop customers, service users and co-workers; in fact any third party who is assaulted by an employee who is working at the time.

Here is a real life example of how this principle applies.

Our client had been shopping in a WH Smith store in Hounslow on her lunch break. After waiting in a queue she eventually reached the till where she queried the cost of an item. The member of staff who was serving her became extremely agitated. He swore at her and called her a “stupid bitch”. She asked him not to abuse her, but he continued to swear. Matters took an even more unexpected turn when the shop assistant then punched our client.

The assault was reported to the store manager who assured our client that he would help her. However he then left her alone in a room with the very shop assistant who had just assaulted her!

Our client suffered swelling, numbness and headaches as a result of the attack. As well as these physical injuries she also suffered psychologically from the assault, feeling anxious, fearful and having difficulty sleeping and concentrating. She needed to have a significant amount of time off work and was referred for counselling by her GP.

She contacted our free legal helpline about claiming compensation for assault by an employee. We confirmed that she would be entitled to make a claim against the shop worker’s employer, in this case WH Smith. We were also able to confirm that we could help on a No Win, No Fee basis, which meant that she did not need to worry about legal fees at a time when she was already suffering financially as a result of the assault.

We contacted WH Smith and sent formal details of the claim to their insurers. The law holds employers legally responsible for the actions of their employees through a principle known in legal circles as ‘vicarious liability’. This includes assaults committed while they are working. The insurers of WH Smith sensibly recognised that they did not have a valid defence to the claim and quickly admitted legal liability for the assault.

We were then able to concentrate on ensuring that our client recovered everything she was entitled to. We arranged for her to be examined by a clinical psychologist who prepared a report about the emotional impact the assault had on her. We also gathered information and evidence about the financial implications of what had happened, including her lost earnings and lost annual leave.

Following negotiations with WH Smith’s insurers we were able to recover compensation in excess of £10,000.

If you have been the victim of an assault by someone who was working at the time and would like to know if you can claim compensation for assault by an employee then please contact us on 0808 139 1590 for a free case assessment and details of no win, no fee funding. Alternatively send an email with brief details to us at