Retailers can be liable for assaults on customers by staff following a recent and well-publicised case, a law firm has warned.
Bond Dickinson LLP issued the warning after the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Mohamud vs WM Morrison Supermarkets case, deciding Morrisons was vicariously liable when one of its petrol station attendants carried out a serious assault on a customer at a petrol pump.
Christina Tolvas-Vincent, head of retail employment at the firm, comments on the implications for other retailers: “Previously, employers in a similar case would be able to argue that the employee was ‘on a frolic of his own’, meaning that they were not liable for a rogue employee’s actions.”
However, she said this decision means that retailers are more likely to be held liable for such assaults in the future and may face an increase in claims from customers.
“It’s obviously hard to predict such incidents but it is important that employers are aware of their potential liability and ensure that staff are properly supervised.
“While employers don’t need to make changes to employment contracts, they can give themselves further protection by ensuring staff are given training and are clear what to do if they encounter a difficult customer,” she added.
She recommends retailers to investigate a job applicant’s background and take up references before employing them, in order to try to reduce the risks of such an event occurring. She said all these efforts could potentially act in mitigation should an incident occur and go to court.
She added: “Employers should also have a close look at their insurance policies to see whether these sorts of deliberate acts are excluded from the scope of their public liability insurance.
“Many policies may exclude deliberate acts, and hence, there could well be an issue.”