Am I liable for my staff misdemeanours?

  • By The Alchemist About Town
  • 25 May, 2016

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Until now, it was possible to hold employers liable for the acts (or omissions) of their employees if they happened during the course of their employment.

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court takes this to a different level, extending this liability now to criminal acts carried out by employees that have little or nothing to do with their actual job.

The case in questions was against Morrisons' supermarket chain, specifically :

  • An employee working for the supermarket at one of its petrol stations attacked a customer and shouted racist language at him after the customer asked if he could print some images stored in a USB stick. After the customer went back to his car, he was punched and kicked repeatedly by the Morrison employee
  • The customer brought a claim against Morrisons on the basis of vicarious liability.  
  • County court dismissed the case in its first hearing
  • The Court of Appeal upheld this decision
  • The Supreme Court has now overturned the decision on the basis that the employee did not 'metaphorically take off his uniform" when he chased the customer and attacked him, specifically after ordering the customer to stay away from the premises, he was "acting on behalf of the employer".

This extends the law on vicarious liability in that now courts may be able to argue that employees' actions are connected to their employment, even if the employer has not condoned them.

Potentially customers could now sue an employer if a member of their staff commits an unlawful act that affects them.

What can you do about it?

Ensure that your employees are trained about what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace and what  is absolutely not under any circumstances.

If I were you , I would make this a priority.

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