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Law: Employer liability for acts of employees – whistle blowing

In a recent case (Cumbria County Council v Carlisle – Morgan 2007) an employee at a care home raised with management an issue from one of the residents about the lack of care in treatment by another member of staff.

The resident complained again and again it was passed on. The whistle-blowing employee was then assaulted physically and verbally by the other employee and it was established the managers had let the latter employee know who had complained about her.

It was held that the employer was liable for the acts of the assaulting employee in these circumstances.

The employer sought to argue that because the offending employee was below a certain managerial line then it could not be considered an act of the employer. The Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected this argument and made the comparison between this type of absolute liability and that under discrimination cases where it is open to the employer to argue that it has taken all reasonable practical steps to prevent the ‘offence’.

This case is a cautionary tale for employers since unless the law has a specific defence available (e.g. as in discrimination laws) then the employer is liable for the acts of its employees.

Periodically, employees will assault others and in such circumstances a claim against the employer is always a possibility.

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