Employer Vicariously Liable for Employee’s Assault on Customer
The Supreme Court has ruled that an employer was vicariously liable for their employee’s serious assault on a customer.
An employer was vicariously liable for their employee’s serious assault on a customer. The assault occurred whilst the employee was acting in the field of activities assigned to him in connection with his employer’s business. It was therefore right that his employer should be held responsible.
In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc, Mr Khan was employed at a Morrisons petrol station to serve customers and ensure that the petrol pumps were kept in good running order. A customer, Mr Mohamud, asked if it would be possible to print some documents from a USB stick. Mr Khan replied in expletive terms that it was not and ordered him to leave, using foul, racist and threatening language. Mr Khan then followed him to his car, told him never to come back and then attacked him further, punching and kicking him to the ground. Mr Khan ignored the instructions of his supervisor who tried to stop the attack.
Mr Mohamud brought a personal injury claim for assault against Morrisons. The Court had to decide whether Morrisons were liable for Mr Khan’s violent acts. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeal ruled that they were not. Mr Mohamud appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled that Morrisons were vicariously liable. The test is whether an employee’s acts are so closely connected with the employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer liable for his acts. This involves considering:
- the nature of the employee’s job or field of activities involved, taking a broad approach; and
Mr Khan’s job was to attend to customers and respond to their inquiries. When he answered Mr Mahumud’s inquiry in a foul mouthed way and ordered him to leave, he was acting within the field of activities assigned to him. When he followed him to his car, he was ordering him never to come back to his employer’s premises, an order which he reinforced with violence. In giving this order he was purporting to act about his employer’s business. It was a gross abuse of his position, but it was in connection with the business in which he was employed to serve customers. It was right that Morrisons should be responsible for this abuse of position.
Cases on vicarious liability are always fact specific. The Supreme Court in this case applied the accepted “close connection” test but has arguably broadened its remit. If an employee’s job affords them the opportunity to commit a wrong towards a third party, there is a risk that the employer will be held liable.
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