For some teachers, violence at the workplace is real possibility. The news is filled with more stories of teachers injured by the violent behavior of students or co-workers. In the age of social media, many of these violent acts against teachers are posted to social media accounts, even as they are occurring. Some teachers injured as a result of school violence may be entitled to receive Workers’ Compensation for their injuries.
School Violence a Real Risk for Teachers
As the country continues to deal with the aftermath of fatal school shootings, many instances of non-fatal school shootings have occurred. Other examples of school violence include student attacks on teachers, teachers harmed in the process of breaking up student-on-student violence, and violence committed against teachers by their co-workers.
Teachers who work with emotionally disturbed or special needs students face increased risks of injury, often due to inadequate staffing or improper supervision of medicine distribution. Reports of being struck, spit on, kicked, punched, and scratched are common occurrences. Injuries ranging from bruising and lacerations to broken bones and concussions often result from school violence. In extreme cases, the violence can lead to significant injuries, including traumatic brain injury, internal bleeding, and even death. Teachers are not the only professionals who suffer injuries resulting from school violence. Many special education paraprofessionals and teacher aides also suffer frequent injuries due to student violence.
Workers’ Compensation for Injured Teachers
Teachers who suffer injuries due to violence at their workplace may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ Compensation benefits can help pay for the costs of medical treatment and the loss of wages resulting from an injury sustained at the workplace. For teachers who need to take time off from work as a result of their injuries, Workers’ Compensation benefits can help prevent a financial nightmare.
Schools must provide a safe working environment for their staff. In cases where the violent behavior in students is foreseeable, such as in certain special education settings, staff may be injured if the school fails to provide appropriate training and necessary protective equipment such as safety restraints. Understaffing in classrooms is another dangerous, yet common hazard. Injured school workers are encouraged to report their injuries and document the violence that is occurring in school settings.
Teachers or paraprofessionals injured by school violence should contact an experienced Columbia Workers’ Compensation lawyer to discuss the next steps available.
Teachers and Workers’ Compensation
School teachers have one of the toughest jobs. Handling a room full of children five days a week, planning their lessons, teaching, and grading tests can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. However, the job is physically demanding as well. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 40,000 teachers each year suffer a workplace injury. Injury-causing accidents common among school faculty include being struck by falling materials and suffering slip and falls on slippery floors or steps. In addition, teachers can experience injuries by performing repetitive tasks such as writing on a board or typing.
Sadly, assaults by students and even by armed outsiders have resulted in teachers being hurt or fatally injured. According to Education By The Numbers, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the educational system, the number of injuries teachers suffer from school-related violence has increased significantly over the past five years.
Chronic illnesses have also been reported. These can be caused by exposure to unsafe building materials or to chemicals used to teach chemistry or biology. In addition, repeated exposure to stressful working conditions can, over time, cause illnesses such as heart disease and nervous conditions.
Workers’ Compensation Coverage
School employees are covered by no-fault Workers’ Compensation insurance, which is paid for by their employer. It provides reimbursement to injured workers for missed work and for medical expenses associated with on-the-job injuries. There are some exceptions to being covered by Workers’ Compensation. An injury related to intoxication from alcohol or a controlled substance is generally not covered. Injuries that arise from willfully hurting yourself are also not covered.
Under South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation law, employees injured at work may be reimbursed for part of their salary for the days they have missed work because of the injury. The maximum amount of compensation is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage up to a certain amount.
Additional coverage can include payment of medical expenses, including hospitalization and psychological counseling. A teacher may also be entitled to compensation for temporary or permanent disability if he or she is unable to fully recover from the injury.
Workers’ Compensation law usually allows up to 90 days for you to notify your employer of a work-related accident or injury. However, the best chance for you to receive the full compensation you are due is to report the injury or illness as soon as possible. There is a two-year statute of limitations on these claims after which you may be barred from filing a Workers’ Compensation claim.
Violence Against Teachers
Statistics reveal that violence against teachers is an all too common occurrence. The National Center for Education Statistics report that 1.3 million nonfatal crimes were committed against U.S. teachers from 1997 to 2001. The U.S. Department of Education reported that from 2011 to 2012, approximately nine percent of teachers were physically threatened, and five percent were physically attacked in schools. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a national survey shows that 80 percent of teachers reported being victimized at least once within the current or past school year.
Violence Against Teachers is Both Prevalent and Underreported
A recent study led by researchers at Ohio State University shows that workplace violence against educators remains an issue requiring the attention of researchers, school administrators, community leaders, and policymakers. Researchers surveyed 3,403 teachers of students in kindergarten through grade 12, where 2,505 of them said they were a victim of some form of violence. Of those victims, 25 percent said they were physically abused or assaulted, 20 percent said they were threatened with physical violence, and 37 percent said they were subject to verbal insults, disrespectful language, or inappropriate sexual advances.
However, of those 2,505 victims, 20 percent did not report the workplace violence to an administrator, 14 percent did not tell a co-worker, and almost 24 percent did not tell their families. According to the study, teachers were more likely to talk to co-workers than administrators and eight percent said they received a lack of support when they reported student violence. Results of the study indicate that teachers often feel characterological and behavioral self-blame, which prevents them from reporting incidents.
Implications of the Study and Recommendations for Improvement
According to the APA, teacher victimization harms the teacher and the society they work in. Violent incidents result in lost wages, absence from work, teachers leaving the profession, which requires the hiring and training of new teachers, medical and psychological treatment, student disciplinary procedures, incarceration of perpetrators, and increased Workers’ Compensation claims and premiums. These costs related to teacher victimization exceed two billion dollars a year.
The study’s lead author says that although it seems like the first thing a teacher would do after such an encounter would be to report it, many are not telling anyone what happened to them, which is a disturbing revelation. To combat this hesitancy to report, he recommends that schools increase their support for teachers who are victims of workplace violence by offering more effective policies, services, support, and interventions. The APA agrees, suggesting that classroom-based schoolwide violence prevention programs be implemented to teach people how to recognize, mitigate, and prevent school violence.