Employer’s liability for employee’s assault on customer.

Employer’s liability for employee’s assault on customer.

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18 Mar 2018

When Morrison’s supermarket employee Khan physically attacked a customer, were Morrison’s liable for Mr Khan’s actions? Yes, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal, reminding employers that they can be liable for an employee’s actions even if they had little control over them through the ‘vicarious liability’ rule.

It was a terrible day for Morrison’s customer Mr Mohamed when he upset forecourt employee Khan. Khan subjected him to a torrent of racial abuse and then followed him out to his car before subjecting him to a sustained and brutal physical attack which left Mt Mohamed with epilepsy. All he had done was ask the employee if he could print some documents for him from his USB stick.

Sometimes employers can be held liable for the actions of an employee. As a straightforward example if in the course of his work employee A harasses employee B because employee B is a man/woman/gay/black/religious etc. then the employer would need to show that it had taken reasonable steps to prevent that sort of treatment to avoid ‘vicarious liability’ under which the employer would be liable to pay damages, even if it didn’t know of the harassment. ‘Reasonable steps’ might simply include having a suitable policy and showing that employee A had received a copy.

Here the case is a little more complex. Was Khan acting in the ‘course of his work’ when he attacked Mr Khan, or were his actions so far removed from his job that he can only be regarded to be acting on his own? The employment tribunal though the latter, but the Supreme Court took a different view - Mr Khan was still acting within the course of his duties when he stepped out from behind the counter and when Mr Khan followed the Claimant to his car and told him not to come back to the petrol station, this was not something personal between them, but an order to keep away from his employer’s premises. In giving the order the court held that he was purporting to act about his employer’s business, and so vicarious liability was established.

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