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Vicarious liability

Employer vicarious liability – Supreme Court rules on Morrisons case

The Supreme Court has ruled that Morrisons was not liable for a data breach committed by an unhappy employee. This overturns a Court of Appeal finding against the supermarket on the grounds of vicarious liability.

The case relates to an internal auditor at the supermarket who was unhappy after being disciplined by his employer. In 2013 he posted the personal details of 100,00 Morrisons staff online and also sent them anonymously to national newspapers. 5000 employees subsequently brought a group action for compensation.

The vicarious liability rule states that employers are responsible for employee’s actions at work. So even if an employee breaks company rules, the company can be held responsible if the action was committed while at work. This Supreme Court ruling found that the data breach was not part of the employee’s ‘field of activities’ and thus Morrisons was not vicariously liable.

Vicarious liability – protection for employers

Many employers will welcome the Supreme Court ruling, but we must stress that this is a ruling on a specific case in specific circumstances. Other cases may not result in the same outcome.

We recommend that employers minimise the risk of a similar case being brought against them.

  • For discriminatory acts, make sure that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination happening in the workplace.
  • To avoid personal injury claims, make sure that everything has been done to prevent any incidents happening in the first place.

It’s important to show that you have the appropriate policies in place in areas such as health and safety, equal opportunities, whistleblowing and bullying.

PM Law can provide advice and assistance with preparing these policies. We can also help if an employee has brought a case against you. Contact the Dispute Resolution team on 0114 220 1795 or email disresenquiry@pm-law.co.uk. More information on our employment law services here.

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