The Supreme Court has held Morrisons vicariously liable after an employee attacked a customer.

Mr Khan worked at Morrisons petrol station in Birmingham in 2008 when he punched and kicked his victim, Mr Mohamud who was a customer.

Mr Mohamud entered the petrol station and asked Mr Khan to print some documents stored on his USB stick as a “favour”. Mr Khan responded abusively which included using racist language. Mr Mohamud did not respond in an abusive manner and decided to leave the building.

Mr Khan followed Mr Mohamud out to his car and shouted more abuse and then physically assaulted him by punching and kicking him repeatedly. A claim was brought by Mr Mohamud against Morrisons for vicarious liability.

What is vicarious liability?
In an employment relationship, vicarious liability involves an employer being liable for the wrongs committed by an employee where there is sufficient connection with the employment. It can arise even if the employer has committed no wrong.

The County Court dismissed the claim on the basis that it said there was an insufficiently close connection between what Mr Khan was employed to do and his actions. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision. The Supreme Court has now overturned this decision meaning that Morrisons are liable for Mr Khan’s actions.

The Supreme Court considered Mr Khan’s job serving customers and responding to their enquiries. It was held that the attack took place directly after Mr Khan’s interaction with the customer and Mr Khan’s order telling the customer to stay away from the premises suggested that he was purporting to act on his employer’s behalf. It was found that the motive of the attack (racism) was irrelevant.

The legal test where there is an employment relationship is to consider whether the connection between the employment and the wrongful act or omission is so close that it would be just and reasonable to impose the liability.

The Courts have considered a range of wrongdoings where vicarious liability might apply. Some cases have found wrongdoings of arson, battery, indecent assault, defamation of character, theft and fraud to lead to vicarious liability against the employer.

Key tips for Employers
It is important for employers to be mindful that they can be liable for other types of wrongdoing carried out by employees such as bullying, harassment and discrimination. Employers must not turn a blind eye to allegations of harassment. Employers need to investigate any allegations made fully and fairly.

Employers should ensure that they have a bullying and harassment, code of conduct and equal opportunities policies in their staff handbook and arrange for staff to undergo training where necessary. Policies need to be clearly communicated to staff and applied consistently and fairly. These steps may assist in defending any claim of vicarious liability for any discriminatory acts committed by the employer’s employees.

If you require any advice around vicarious liability matters, or any other employment advice please contact us.