It has long been established that employers can be held to be responsible for the wrongdoing of their employees through vicarious liability. However, the facts and circumstances of the case will be relevant and therefore for those employees thinking that they can get away with murder (or an assault as in the following case) whilst in employment, should think again.
In the case of Ahmed Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc, it was held that Morrisons was not vicariously liable for the actions of its employee. The claimant was subjected to an unprovoked serious assault by the employee, Mr Khan, who worked in Morrison’s petrol station at a kiosk. The claimant asked the employee if he could print off some documents which he had stored on his memory stick. Mr Khan responded in an abusive fashion, including racist language and followed the claimant to his car, despite being told not to by his supervisor. He then carried out a violent assault on the claimant involving punches and kicks to the head.
Even though the events certainly happened whilst the employee was at work (potentially giving rise to vicarious liability through the employment relationship), the actions of the employee were not a part of his job, and therefore there was not a sufficiently close connection between the employee’s wrongdoing and the employment, which is the second ‘stage’ for vicarious liability. This case can be distinguished from cases where it is a part of the job to keep public order, for example a doorman on a nightclub or a railway ticket inspector, where it is more likely that the employers will be held liable for their employee’s actions. In the present case, Mr Khan’s job was no more than ensuring that the shop was in good running order and to assist people if at all possible. Mr Khan’s actions were therefore outside of the scope of his employment and were for reasons of his own.
This case establishes that the courts will look at the facts of each case to see whether it is fair and just to hold an employer vicariously liable for the actions of its employees. Employers may be able to help their case by showing that they have carried out all necessary training, such as equal opportunity training, to bolster their case against claimants seeking to dig their deep pockets for an employee’s actions.
If you would like any further information on this topic please contact one of the Edwin Coe Employment team.
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