The general rule for workplace injuries – and one of the main ideas behind the workers’ compensation system – is that you can’t sue your employer if you get hurt on the job. In exchange, you get a more reliable and efficient way to get compensation for the effects of your work injury. You are entitled to benefits, usually paid by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company, such as coverage of your medical expenses and payment for lost wages if you have to miss work while you recover. Ideally, this compromise works to reduce any potential conflict in the workplace that would be caused by litigation, and it helps get injured employees back into the workforce.

While the rule against lawsuits is fairly broad, it does not apply in every single situation. There are some instances in which you can sue your employer after a work injury. It’s definitely is the exception to the rule, but it’s worth mentioning.

One example of an instance in which you can bring a personal injury lawsuit for a workplace injury is if that injury was intentionally cause by your employer. The bar is pretty high for proving that it was intentional. For example, if your employer is lax about building and equipment maintenance, and you get hurt by some broken equipment, it probably won’t rise to the level of intentional harm. On the other hand, if your employer knows you are working with a hazardous substance and it likely will cause you to get sick, but they don’t tell you and don’t protect you, that might be bad enough to fall into the intentional category.

Assault is a clearer example. If you and your boss get into an argument, and it leads to a physical fight, and he seriously injures you in that fight, it’s likely an intentional harm. It may have happened at work, but the fact that it was intentional takes it out of the realm of workers’ compensation. Instead, it would fall into the more general personal injury category, where lawsuits are allowed.

These same rules apply to injuries caused by fellow employees. If it was accidental, or even negligent, an injury caused by a fellow employee would fall under workers’ compensation. However, if the injury is intentional, you may be able to bring a lawsuit for personal injury. When an employer intentionally harms an employee, they’re considered to be acting outside the role of employer and no longer get the protection from lawsuits that the workers’ compensation law provides.

By Michael Helfand