Employers’ liability for their employees significantly increased

The UK Supreme Court recently ruled that businesses could be liable if an employee commits a negligent act while at work. The judgment on vicarious liability (legal ​responsibility for other people’s ​actions, particularly those of your ​employees) will have significant effects on the way as employers you train and monitor your staff.

The judgement has been called extremely significant and one that could have far-reaching consequences for businesses. The warning comes after the supermarket Morrisons was held responsible for the actions of their employee who kicked and punched a customer at one of its petrol stations in 2008.

The case concerned Ahmed Mahmoud, who was assaulted by Morrisons’ worker Amjid Khan on the supermarket’s premises. The Supreme Court ruled Morrisons were “vicariously liable” for Mr Khan’s actions. This means, that the supermarket, as the employer, was held responsible for its employee’s negligent act.

The Court heard how the supermarket employee, Mr Khan, followed Mr Mahmoud to his car after a disagreement. Mr Khan told Mr Mahmoud not to return to the petrol station and then proceeded to assault the customer.

The Supreme Court’s judgement stated that Mr Khan was “purporting to act about his employer’s business” and therefore Morrisons were found to be vicariously liable for their employee’s actions.

This judgement means that an employee’s failure to exercise appropriate duty of care to customers could have legal implications for employers as, under this ruling, liability is now no longer a matter for the individual alone; the employer will also be accountable.

Employers may now find it very difficult to absolve themselves of liability if a customer, or fellow employee, can show that they have been seriously wronged by their employee.

Further information on vicarious liability and the training and monitoring of staff can be found on the ACAS website.


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