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Employer liability for employee’s wrongdoings

In Weddall v Barchester Healthcare and Wallbank v Wallbank Fox Designs Ltd, the Court of Appeal confirmed that an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s wrongdoings if the acts are so closely connected with employment that they are a wrongful way of carrying out authorised work.

In Weddal, Mr Marsh, a care home assistant, attacked Mr Weddal, the home’s deputy manager, after Mr Weddal phoned him at home to ask if he wanted to volunteer to work a night shift as another assistant was ill. In Wallbank, Mr Brown placed his hand on Mr Wallbank’s face and threw him onto a table, after Mr Wallbank had rightly indicated that Mr Brown should not work in a way, which wasted company resources.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that the question is whether the employee’s wrongdoing was so closely connected with his or her employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer vicariously liable (responsible for another’s actions). If there is a connection, then the closeness of that connection has to be considered and judged by asking whether the acts can be seen as a wrongful way of carrying out authorised work.

In Weddall, the violence was Mr Marsh’s response to a valid request that he consider volunteering for a night shift. When he received the request, Mr Marsh was drunk and he went to the workplace with the purpose of inflicting serious violence on Mr Weddall. Mr Marsh was acting for his own reasons. The request to work the night shift was a pretext for an act of violence unconnected with work. The employer could not be held vicariously liable.

In Wallbank, not only was the violence used by Mr Brown closely related to employment in both time and space, it was a spontaneous response to a valid instruction given to him when he was carrying out his duties. A broad view has to be taken of the nature of ‘employment’ and what is reasonably related to the employee’s duties. In these circumstances the Court was persuaded that the employer could be held vicariously liable.

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