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Morrisons liable for the actions of its employee

Posted on 14th April 2016
Case law

In this the Supreme Court held Morrisons liable for the injuries to a customer caused by its employee.

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Mr Khan was broadly acting within the nature of his job and there was a sufficiently close connection between his position of employment and his unlawful conduct

Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc 2016 Supreme Court

The Facts

Mr Khan worked for Morrisons in one of its petrol stations.

In 2008 Mr Mohamud asked Mr Khan if he could print some documents from a USB stick.  Mr Khan responded using "foul, racist and threatening language" and told Mr Mohamud to leave.

Mr Khan followed Mr Mohamud to his car, opened the front passenger door and told him never to come back. Mr Mohamud asked Mr Khan to get out and shut the door.  He did not.  Mr Khan "punched [Mr Mohamud] on his left temple" and continued to attack Mr Mohamud who got out to close the door himself. 

Mr Mohamud brought a claim for compensation for his injuries against Morrisons, claiming that it was liable for the actions of Mr Khan, who was its employee.

The Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court decided:
  • that Mr Khan was broadly acting within the nature of his job; and
  • there was a sufficiently close connection between his position of employment and his unlawful conduct.
Morrisons were, therefore, vicariously liable for Mr Khan’s actions.  Although the Court made no finding about Mr Khan’s motivations for the attack, the Court also concluded that his motivation was irrelevant. 

Lord Toulson said that ‘it was Mr Khan's job to attend to customers and to respond to their inquiries …His conduct in answering [Mr Mohamoud]'s request in a foul-mouthed way and ordering him to leave was inexcusable but within the 'field of activities' assigned to him. What happened thereafter was an unbroken sequence of events.’

Comment

This case is an important reminder to employers that unexpected actions by employees towards customers (and employees) which appear to be unrelated to their employment could well be the responsibility of the employer.

Appropriate policies should be in place to make it clear what behaviour is and is not acceptable are imperative to minimise the risk of successful claims such as this one.

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