Today's guest author is Jon Rehm, Esquire of the Nebraska Bar.
The United States has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the developed world. Unfortunately the workplace is no sanctuary from this violence.
Many workplaces, schools in particular, participate in active shooter drills. But an active shooter drill at a school in Indiana lead to more workplace violence.
As reported in Splinter, teachers in Monticello, Indiana were shot “execution style” with pellet guns by sheriff’s deputies participating in a mass shooter drill. Indiana teachers have helped introduce legislation outlawing that practice.
The practice of shooting people with pellet guns during active shooter drills raises a few legal issues. True to the title of this blog, any physical injury caused by being shot with a pellet gun during a workplace active shooter drill would be covered under workers’ compensation. At least in Nebraska any mental injury stemming from the phyiscal injury should be covered under workers’ compensation as well.
Workers’ compensation pays limited benefits regardless of fault of the employee or employer. Workers’ compensation does not pay for pain and suffering or generally punish employers for bad conduct. But an employee can bring a so-called third-party case if the conduct of someone other than the employer caused the injury. In the Indiana case, it was a county sheriff who shot the teachers with pellet guns.
So, the injured teachers and school workers could bring a case for intentional assault or possibly even a civil rights case against the sheriff’s department. Of course any state actor responsible for an injury has some protections under sovereign immunity for their misconduct. (Sovereign immunity usually is not an issue in workers’ compensation)
Besides being compensated for physical and mental injuries, an employee who is intentionally injured in an active shooter drill may have employment law concerns as well. In my experience, an employer dumb enough to let their employees be assaulted would be bird-brained enough to retaliate against an employee who made a workers’ compensation claim for the injury. That same employer would probably also retaliate against an employee who reported safety concerns to an outside agency like OSHA.
In a public school setting, the school would have some defenses in an employment law case via sovereign immunity. But public schools are generally unionized and unions can be a great resource for employees who are intentionally assaulted on the job. As mentioned above, the teachers union in Indiana supported legislation to ban the practice of shooting people with pellet guns during active shooter drills. Solid union representation can also help protect employees who speak out against unsafe practices in the workplace.