Whose actions is an employer responsible for?

Added On: 10th November 2016

Whose actions is an employer responsible for?

Recent case law has clearly established that employers have vicarious liability for all the actions of their employees in the course of their employment, and that this liability can also extend to anyone acting on their behalf.

In the case of Unite the Union v Nailard [2016], Nailard was a trade union Regional Official, i.e. an employee of Unite the Union. In her job she was required to visit a number of locations in her region, one of which was Heathrow. At this location there were two union representatives - not employees of Unite the Union - who subjected her to sexual harassment. She complained, and as a result she was told she was no longer required to visit this location. She resigned and claimed constructive dismissal; the union said that they were not responsible for what had happened because the representatives were not their employees.

The union was unsuccessful in their argument; the tribunal concluded that the union representatives were acting in the role that they did for the union, hence the union was liable for their actions.

The learning from this is that it is essential that employers think about all those who act on their behalf. They must be aware that they are likely to be liable for the actions of those who do so, beyond simply considering how they interact with colleagues. Having identified who may be considered to act on your behalf, ensure that all people have been made aware of your standards, values and expectations.