Firstly, what is Vicarious Liability?
An employer can be liable for the acts and/or omissions of its ‘Employees’ provided these took place during the course of employment.
A recent Court of Appeal ruling has dealt with the law relating to vicarious liability and a company’s use of contractors.
The case in question, Barclays Bank PLC v Various Claimants, related to an appeal by Barclays Bank on its liability for sexual assaults that were said to have been committed by a doctor it has contracted to complete medical examinations of its staff. The bank specified the nature, time, place and the examiner and there was therefore some degree of control and knowledge.
Following the death of the doctor the police found evidence of sexual assaults during the examinations.
Various members of staff sought damages from the bank on the basis that they were vicariously liable for the assaults on the basis that the doctor’s work for them was akin to employment. The bank argued that the doctor was self employed as an independent contractor and as such they were not liable for his actions.
The High Court had previously agreed with the Claimants that the bank was vicariously liable and the Court of Appeal upheld that decision. The Court of Appeal discussed the changing nature of work which required a more flexible approach to vicarious liability. Given that the doctor had died and his estate had already been distributed the bank was the only viable entity able to provide compensation which will have, no doubt, had some bearing on the Court’s decision.
Important points for employers
As well as the above case, there have been other recent examples of the Court taking a more flexible approach to find vicarious liability if it considers it fair and just to do so. It is important that all persons working for a company, even those not classically considered ‘employees’ are aware of their obligations.
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