Employment Law: Vicarious Liability

In the case of Chell v Tarmac Cement And Lime Ltd. The Court of Appeal was asked the question can an employer be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees when engaging in horseplay?

This will be determined by the facts of each case and whether the conduct is closely associated with the role for which the employee was engaged.

In Chell v Tarmac Cement And Lime Ltd. the Claimant was employed by Roltec Engineering Ltd as a Site Fitter. He worked at a site that was operated and controlled by Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd.  There were tensions between Roltec and Tarmac fitters. A fitter employed by Tarmac used a hammer to strike a target which he had placed on a bench close to the Claimant’s ear causing him to sustain hearing loss and tinnitus.

The Claimant argued that Tarmac was vicariously liable for the actions of their fitter and was liable for negligence for breaching its duty to prevent a foreseeable risk of injury.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the claims, it accepted that horseplay, ill-discipline, and malice could be a mechanism for causing a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury, however that was not proven based on the facts in the case. As the fundamental question remains whether the wrongful act is sufficiently related to the conduct authorised by the employer to justify the imposition of vicarious liability.

The case supports the need for businesses to have clear policies on conduct and the expectations of workers when engaged to undertake their duties. Whilst every business expects its employees to have a somewhat light hearted approach to their jobs on occasion, there is a need to enforce a clear policy that health and safety at work must always be maintained.