Morrisons vicariously liable for employee’s attack on customer

2016-03-14 chris posted:

The supermarket chain Morrisons was held by the Supreme Court to be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee who assaulted a customer.

The attack was carried out by employee Mr Khan at a Morrisons petrol station. Mr Mohamud (who is Somali) had entered the Morrisons premises, and asked Mr Khan if it was possible to print some documents stored on a USB stick. Mr Khan responded in an abusive manner, including using racist language.

Mr Mohamud left and walked to his vehicle. He was followed by Mr Khan, who told him not to return to the petrol station. Mr Khan then attacked Mr Mohamud, punching and kicking him repeatedly. He ignored attempts by his supervisor to stop the attack.

Mr Mohamud brought a claim against Morrisons on the basis of vicarious liability.

Initially, the County Court dismissed Mr Mohamud’s claim against Morrisons, concluding that there was an insufficiently close connection between what Mr Khan was employed to do and his actions against Mr Mohamud. The Court of Appeal upheld the County Court’s decision.

However, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal's decision, finding unanimously that Morrisons was liable for Mr Khan’s actions. In doing so, the Supreme Court examined the nature of Mr Khan’s job and whether or not there was a sufficient connection between the job and his wrongful conduct to make his employer liable.

The Supreme Court identified Mr Khan’s job as attending to customers and responding to their enquiries. It decided that his attack followed directly on from his interaction with a customer, and his order to the customer to stay away from the premises suggested that he was purporting to act on his employer’s behalf.

While the Supreme Court took care to say it has not changed the law on vicarious liability, in practice this ruling does extend its scope, as courts will be more willing to say that an employee’s actions are ‘closely connected’ to his or her employment, even if the employer would not have approved of them.

In effect, employers will find it more difficult to avoid vicarious liability for their employees’ actions. This underlines the importance of training and ensuring that employees’ behaviour, especially when dealing with the public, is exemplary.

Before today, an employer would only have been liable for an assault like the one in this case if it were done while the employee was doing a task as part of his employment. This case changes that completely. Now employers can be held liable for criminal acts performed by their employees at work even when those acts were personal acts not directly connected to their employment.

For more information about vicarious liability, and the possibility of employers becoming liable for the actions of their employees in employment law claims, contact us today on 01225 632240 or at info@renneyandco.com.

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