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Employer was vicariously liable for theft by employee

29 March 2011

Where does an employer stand when an employee has done something illegal or even criminal in the course of his work? Willans reports on the most recent example, where the appeal court ruled that the employer was vicariously liable for an act of theft carried out by a member of staff.

The case, Brink’s Global Services Inc & others v Igrox Ltd, concerned an employee who stole a number of silver bars from a shipping container that he was supposed to be fumigating. 

The law has changed a great deal in recent years and the courts have not always produced consistent views. The dominant principle is that there must be a sufficiently close connection between the employee’s wrongful act and the work he is employed to do. In this case, the fact that the man stole from the container he was required to clean as part of his job satisfied the court that there was such a connection.

The concept of vicarious liability can apply in a wide variety of work and employment situations. For example, in a case that went to appeal last year, the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church was held vicariously liable for sexual abuse carried out by a priest whose acts were possible only because of his status and his responsibility for youth work.

If your staff carry out services for your clients, or are responsible for holding clients’ property, it is worth bearing in mind the need to protect those clients from potential wrongdoing by your own employees. You might also consider your insurance provision in that context.

If you need clear and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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