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Are you liable for the actions of your employees?

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You may think that the reply is obvious, but you may be surprised that sometimes you are.  If an employee causes damage or is injured during the course of their employment, then the employer is jointly liable to pay for any claims arising. 

The employee must be acting in the course of their employment and not to have “metaphorically taken off his uniform” An example of this would be the plumber who floods a house while at work or doing a ‘foreigner’ outside work time.  Liability would apply even if the employee had been told not to do something (Limpus v London General Omnibus Co (1862) 1 H&C 526 – bus drivers racing, despite a prohibition, caused a collision.), or there was a genuine mistake (Bayley v Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Co (1873) LR 8 CP 148 – a porter, believing a passenger was on the wrong train, violently pulled him off, causing injury).  However, when a driver took a detour to “make a frolic of his own” he was held to have been on his own business when he caused an accident (Storey v. Ashton 1869).

A more up to date example is the case of a data breach by an employee of Morrison’s Supermarket’s.  An employee with access to the pay details gave the personal data of almost 10,000 of his former colleagues to news outlets and data sharing websites.  He was sentenced to 8 years in prison, but 5518 of the employee sued Morrisons and they were found to be vicariously liable.  Morrisons faced fines and awards to the employees that could total around £16.5 million for a data breach they weren’t found directly liable for. 

Under GDPR, any person who has suffered ‘material or non-material damage’ due to a breach of the regulations has a right to compensation from the data controller or the data processor, to compensate for any damage suffered. So, after 25th May 2018, it will be easier for employees or ex-employees to make claims.  These could then mean constructive dismissal or whistleblowing cases that involve any breach.  This means it is theoretically possible that an employer who has a data breach could find themselves in criminal court, civil court and employment tribunal over the same issue!

Ignoring or claiming ignorance of the regulations is no defence and noncompliance is not an option.  There is no provision made for the size of the business so anyone who holds personal information like name, address, national insurance number and wages information etc. of employees must implement the new rules. 

For further help and advice, speak to one of our advisors by calling 01455 444222 or contact us and an advisor will be in touch shortly.

This article is intended as a guide and for general information only and is not a substitute for taking specific advice relating to your situation. For specific advice regarding this or any other issue relating to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.