Monday, 14 March 2016

Companies receive harsh wake-up call

Companies could be more liable than ever for the behaviour of their employees following a landmark legal ruling, a Shropshire employment law expert has warned.

The Supreme Court found that supermarket chain Morrisons was liable for the actions of a worker who punched and kicked a man on one of its petrol station forecourts.

And John Mehtam, the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said: “This is a wake-up call to all employers. It means that companies will find it much more difficult to avoid legally binding liability for the actions of their staff during working hours.”

According to court documents, Amjid Khan was working at a Morrisons petrol station in Birmingham in 2008 when he punched and kicked Ahmed Mohamud. Mr Mohamud died six years later of an illness not related to the incident, and his family continued his legal fight.

Morrisons had sacked Mr Khan and agreed to pay damages, but the Supreme Court has now overturned a previous Court of Appeal ruling and decided that the supermarket group is liable for Mr Khan's actions.

Mr Mehtam said the case hinged on the definition of ‘vicarious liability’ - where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In the workplace, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.

He said: “There is no doubt that this ruling will make it easier for successful claims of this kind against companies – even if the actions of staff were neither sanctioned, nor supported, by their managers. It does not amount to a change in the law, but is most certainly a change in the way that ‘vicarious liability’ cases will be interpreted by the courts.”

Mr Mehtam added: “Previously, it was thought that an employer would only be liable for an assault if it took place while carrying out a task which was part of their working contract. That has all changed. Now, employers can clearly be held liable for any form of criminal act carried out by their staff – whether they are directly linked to their job, or not.”