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When will an employer be liable for the violent acts of its employees?

Posted on 25th February 2012
Case law

The key question is how far the employee's misconduct was linked to his or her employment.

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Julie Temple Julie
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Weddall v Barchester Healthcare Ltd

Wallbank v Wallbank Fox Designs Limited Court of Appeal 24 January 2012

Consider these two scenarios:

  • Employee A telephones employee B at home and asks if he can work a shift that evening. Employee B declines the offer but then cycles to his place of work and launches a violent attack on employee A (The Weddall case).
  • Employee A gives a verbal instruction and offer of assistance to employee B in the workplace. Employee B responds by throwing employee A onto a table and causing him injury (The Wallbank case).
In each of the above scenarios, should the employer be liable for the actions of employee B?

Both scenarios were considered by the Court of Appeal which, in scenario 1, said 'no' the employer should not be held liable for employee B's attack as it was an independent venture, unconnected with his role.

In scenario 2, however, the employer was held vicariously liable for B's violent attack as the Court considered that it was closely related to his employment as it was an instant reaction to the instruction he received in the workplace.

In practice

In determining this issue, the Court will look at how far the employee's misconduct was linked to his or her employment. For the employer to be liable, the link needs to be a close one, as in scenario 2.

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