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Firms May Be Held Liable for Violent Staff, Says Supreme Court

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Firms May Be Held Liable for Violent Staff, Says Supreme Court

Firms May Be Held Liable for Violent Staff, Says Supreme Court
May 16
08:51 2016

Alan Delaney cropA case in which an employer was held liable for a racist attack committed by a member of staff has highlighted potential issues for hospitality businesses, where staff have a high level of contact with the public.

Alan Delaney examines the latest decision of the Supreme Court and its ramifications for the Scottish tourism and catering sector…



What was the court case about?

The case of Mr A M Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc related the former’s visit to a Morrisons petrol station. Mr Mohamud had approached a Morrisons employee and asked whether it was possible to have some documents printed from a USB stick. The employee followed Mr Mohamud back to his car, violently attacked him and ordered him to stay away from the petrol station.

How was the assailant’s employer involved?

Mr Mohamud brought proceedings against Morrisons claiming it was vicariously liable for the actions of its employee. His case was unsuccessful at first instance, and before the Court of Appeal, with the view being taken that there was an insufficiently close connection between what the employee was employed to do and his conduct in attacking Mr Mohamud. Mr Mohamud appealed to the Supreme Court.

He sadly died of an unrelated illness before his appeal was heard, but his family continued the action and won in the Supreme Court, which held that Morrisons was liable for its employee’s violent actions. It found that there was a sufficiently close connection between the employee’s role – which was to serve customers and interact with them – and his violent conduct.

What warnings does the case have for tourism and hospitality businesses?

On giving the judgement, Lord Toulson said: ‘I do not consider that it is right to regard him as having metaphorically taken off his uniform the moment he stepped from behind the counter…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’.

The fact that the employee was motivated by personal racism was not considered to be relevant, and Lord Toulson said that as the employer had entrusted the man with a position, ‘it should be held responsible for its employee’s abuse of it’.

The judgement sends a clear signal to all employers, especially those who ask their staff to deal with the public.

So how can a business protect itself from liability?

Although it is almost impossible to eliminate all risk of unpredictable criminal behaviour by members of staff, firms in the hospitality sector can minimise the chance of such unpleasant incidents happening at all. Good practices include checking references before recruiting new staff, and holding induction sessions which clearly communicate the types of behaviours that are promoted by the organisation – and those that will not be tolerated.

Similarly, managers should be trained to spot and deal with inappropriate behaviour whenever it arises. Far from turning a blind eye to issues, business leaders should be on the lookout for potential issues and be prepared to support employees through difficult periods.

 Alan Delaney is a director in the Employment and Pensions team at Maclay Murray & Spens and a member of the firm’s Food and Drink team.

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Catering Scotland

Catering Scotland

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