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Supreme Court finds employer vicariously liable for employee's assault on customer

In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11, the Supreme Court considered whether an employer was vicariously liable for an employee's unprovoked violent assault on a customer.

Applying the previous case law the test applied was:

- What was the nature of the job, taking a broad approach to this question?

- Was there sufficient connection between the position and the wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be liable?

It was the employee's job to respond to customer enquiries and prior to the violent assault that took place, the employee was answering the customer's request. Despite coming out of his kiosk, it was found that he did so to tell the customer to keep away from his employer's premises and in doing so, he was purporting to go about his employer's business. Despite it being a gross abuse of his position, the eventual violence which took place was carried out in connection with the business of serving customers. It was held that the employer should be responsible for the abuse of position because the acts of the employee were sufficiently connected to his employment.

The law of vicarious liability is not just relevant to violent assaults but also words and acts of discrimination. We regularly bring and defend claims against individuals (not just the employers) in the employment tribunal following allegations of discriminatory behaviour. This case does not mean that employers will always be vicariously liable for the act of employees but instead serves as a reminder of the broad and imprecise aspects of this area of law.

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