New Jersey Superior Court Addresses Whether An Assault by a Coworker Gives Rise to Workers’ Compensation Benefits

In general, when an employee assaults a coworker on work premises, the victim is entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. But a recent New Jersey Superior Court case addresses a very unusual situation, where one coworker cheated another in a pyramid scheme, and a subsequent confrontation led to an assault. The court found that because the incident was motivated by a personal situation that had nothing to do with their job, the victim could not collect Workers’ Compensation benefits.


In this case, Joseph v. Monmouth County, A-4144-13T3 (App. Div. Dec. 14, 1015), Mr. Lesley Joseph was working as a night nursing supervisor in a Monmouth County nursing home. He became involved in a pyramid scheme, called a “susu,” that was being run by his nursing assistant. A “susu” is when individuals contribute money into a pot every week, then take turns collecting the pot. For example, ten people contribute ten dollars a week, and each week a different member of the susu takes the $100 pot.


Mr. Joseph contributed to the susu three times, but never collected. He learned that other participants had not been paid, and that the assistant running the susu had an upcoming wedding. Mr. Joseph tried to contact his assistant, but she avoided him. Eventually, he approached her to tell her what rounds she needed to complete on her shift, and then brought up the susu. She admitted that she had used some of the money, but stressed that she would pay him back.


Later that evening, Mr. Joseph was on break and taking a nap in the break room. While he was sleeping, the assistant attacked him with a hammer. He managed to wrest the hammer away, but was taken to the hospital for lacerations on his face and head.


The Supervising Judge of Compensation in Monmouth found that the confrontation had no nexus to the parties work, but rather, arose from the fact that Mr. Joseph felt he would not be paid on time. The fact that it occurred on work premises was not sufficient to entitle him to Workers’ Compensation.


Mr. Joseph appealed. The Court took note of the fact that there was a prohibition against sleeping in the break room. By deviating from his employers’ rules and regulations, Mr. Joseph removed himself from the scope of his employment, and thus any injury sustained while napping would not be compensable. But the court went one step further, stating that even if he had been permitted to sleep in the break room, the attack still would have occurred because it stemmed from his involvement in the susu scheme, which was totally unrelated to his employment.


New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Shebell & Shebell Are Prepared to Handle Your Workers’ Compensation Claim


This case demonstrates the importance of investigating into the origins of a workplace of assault before determining whether your injury is compensable. The experienced lawyers at Shebell & Shebell know what questions to ask to determine whether you have a viable Workers’ Compensation claim. For a free consultation about your situation, call us at 732-532-2011 or contact us online today.