The European Agency for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) defines third party violence in the context of the workplace as “physical violence, verbal aggression or the threat of physical violence where the aggressor is not a work colleague, e.g. the person, customer, client or patient receiving the goods or services”, and is clear that in this context, assaults by pupils or parents are included . As such it is an occupational health and safety hazard, covered by EU legislation. OSHA notes that workers in the education sector are more at risk of violence when their jobs involve working with children with special educational needs.
A growing body of research indicates that verbal and physical attacks on teachers are on the increase. When they occur, the impact on the individual teacher can be profound. An INTO survey (2012) found that 20% of principals and 18% of teachers reported that they had been the subject of a physical assault. 54% of principals and 39% of teachers had experienced verbal assault. Most physical assaults were by pupils, and most verbal assaults were carried out by adults.
OSHA has outlined the consequences of violence at work, which include
For the individual:
- physical harm
- emotional trauma
- feelings of powerlessness
For the employer/organisation:
- higher staff turnover
- increased absenteeism and sickness absence
- higher insurance costs
In the INTO survey (2012) noted above teachers noted an increase in anxiety and stress as a result of assaults, as well as absence from work and having to seek medical advice.
Following lengthy negotiations, a scheme providing leave of absence following assault for teachers has been agreed between the DES, school management and teachers. This scheme is separate from the illness leave scheme.
Having an assault leave provision has been a demand of INTO Congress for a number of years and the issue has been pursued by INTO officials with the DES over a number of years.
This scheme will be in place for an initial two years on a pilot basis. Circular 61/2017 (PDF) provides for:
- A recording of incidents of assault.
- Assault leave to be available where there is a medically certified physical injury requiring absence from work.
- Provision for up to three months’ assault leave at full pay in a rolling four-year period (with an extension to six months on full pay in exceptional circumstances).
- Substitute cover for assault-related absences.
- A teacher’s sick leave record not being affected by such absences.
A teacher on Assault Leave will have this absence certified by their GP. In addition, where that teacher is eligible for a social welfare Illness Benefit, the DES has confirmed that they must also submit MC1/MC2 certificates to the Illness Benefit Unit (IBU) within the DES Payroll Division, in order to ensure the correct procedure is adhered to, similar to the Sick Leave Scheme.
How can a teacher apply for assault leave?
An application form (Appendix A of Circular 61/2017 (PDF)) must be completed by the teacher concerned and by the employer and forwarded by the employer to the Department/ETB within a week of the incident occurring.
Schools should also note Circular 62/2017 (PDF), which details the scheme for leave of absence following assault for special needs assistants.
Safety in the Workplace
In Ireland, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out the duties of employers and employees in relation to the maintenance of safe workplaces. The Board of Management of a school, as the employer, “shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of his or her employees.” They are also obliged to assess the risks to health, safety and welfare at work, and minimize those risks through taking measures set out in the Act. In addition, they are required to report to the Health and Safety Authority incidents where employees suffer an accident or injury at work, which causes absence of 3 consecutive days or more. Employees are required to take reasonable care to protect their safety at work.
As outlined above, assaults and violence are categorized as risks to occupational health and safety, so in this context, school boards of management are required to assess the risk of assaults and violence against staff occurring and put measures in place to ensure that such risks are minimized. In addition, they are required to make reports to the authorities in relation to incidents which occur.
Violence, harassment or assaults may also constitute criminal offences under the Non- Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which states that
“ 2.—(1) A person shall be guilty of the offence of assault who, without lawful excuse, intentionally or recklessly—
(a) directly or indirectly applies force to or causes an impact on the body of another, or
(b) causes another to believe on reasonable grounds that he or she is likely immediately to be subjected to any such force or impact, without the consent of the other”.
In cases where a criminal assault is suspected, the matter should be reported to the Gardaí. It must be borne in mind that an assault on an employee by a primary school pupil is unlikely to be classed as a criminal assault, as the criminal age of responsibility is 12
Leaflet on Assaults
The INTO is proud to launch a new leaflet for schools and teachers (available below). This leaflet has been developed on an all-island basis, by a small working group made up of two practicing teachers, Rosena Jordan, INTO ex-president and Caroline McCarthy, INTO Northern Committee, along with INTO officials: Deirdre O’Connor, INTO Assistant General Secretary and Tommy McGlone, Senior Official in Northern Office.
They reviewed available material and drew on the experience of Caroline in the special education sector in Northern Ireland, as well as the experience of the officials dealing with queries on this matter. Rosena reflected the experiences of teachers who she met in her year as INTO president, visiting schools all over Ireland.
The leaflet gives advice and guidance to schools in seeking to prevent assaults, and emphasises that assault is an issue for schools as employers, not just a personal issue for a teacher. It also gives practical advice on what to do if an assault occurs.
INTO Assaults Leaflet (PDF)
Advice on dealing with assaults and violence at school
Circular 0061/2017 (PDF)
Scheme for Leave of Absence following Assault for Registered Teachers in recognised Primary & Post-Primary Schools
Circular 0062/2017 (PDF)
Scheme for Leave of Absence following Assault for Special Needs Assistants in recognised Primary & Post-Primary Schools
 EU- OSHA (2011), Workplace Violence and Harassment: a European Picture
 EU-OSHA (2003), FACTS 47 – Prevention of Violence to Staff in the Education Sector