March 31, 2016

Was an Employer Liable for Assault Committed by its Employee?

The Supreme Court in Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc [2016] UKSC 11 considered whether an employer was liable for an assault committed by one of its employees on a customer.

Mr Khan worked at a petrol station kiosk of a large U.K. supermarket chain, Morrisons. A customer, Mr Mohamud, asked Mr Khan to print something for him. Mr Khan declined and told Mr Mohamud to leave the premises in abusive, racist language. He then followed Mr Mohamud out of the shop and attacked him, ignoring his supervisor’s attempts to stop him. Mr Mohamud brought a claim against Morrisons, claiming that it was liable by virtue of being his employer. 

Overturning both the first instance court and the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court found that Morrisons was liable because there was a sufficiently “close connection” between Mr Khan’s job and his assault on Mr Mohamud. In doing so, the Supreme Court clarified the “close connection” test as the following two-fold test: (i) what is the nature of the employee’s job or “field of activities” (which is a question that should be assessed broadly); and (ii) is there a sufficient connection between the employee’s job and his wrongful conduct. The Supreme Court found both limbs of the test were met on the basis that it was part of Mr Khan’s job to attend to customer queries and his assault had flowed seamlessly from Mr Mohamud’s request for assistance. 

In light of this cautionary tale, we would recommend employers to have in place well drafted policies and procedures setting out the standards of conduct expected of employees, as well as the potential disciplinary consequences of a breach of such standards. 

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