Your colleague begins to choke on his sandwich at lunch. The courier trips on loose carpet in your office lobby. Your co-worker goes into anaphylactic shock. What to do? Good Samaritan laws are designed to indemnify individuals who provide reasonable assistance to others in a time of emergency. The laws are intended to encourage assistance without fear of legal repercussion for unintentional injury or wrongful death. These laws have an interesting role in the office setting.
Generally, in order for an individual who renders aid to be protected under a good Samaritan law, the care must be provided at the scene of an emergency, cannot involve willful misconduct, cannot occur when professional assistance is readily available, and cannot be given with the expectation of compensation. These factors can have important implications for the applicability of good Samaritan laws in the workplace. For instance, individuals who provide care in a hospital or other medical facility, where trained doctors and nurses are readily available, generally are not entitled to protection under good Samaritan laws. At the same time, workplaces that include specific good Samaritan policies in their employee handbook with any type of reward could trigger the “expectation of compensation” exclusion, and cause an otherwise well-intentioned employee to be susceptible to liability.
With these exceptions in mind, employers can take steps to promote the safety of employees, while also limiting activity that could lead to personal liability. Employers can provide training for skills that can save lives at work, but should avoid any implication that such actions are mandatory or a requirement from management. In workplaces that have professional help on hand, the employer should ensure that non-professionals understand that the best course of action is to seek professional help when available. And regardless of the work environment, employees should always be sure to contact emergency medical services ASAP. In doing so, employers can maintain a healthy and safe working environment that protects employees in the event of an emergency.