When is an employer vicariously liable (i.e. responsible) for the conduct of its employee? This came up in the case WM Morrison Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants, involving supermarket chain
Morrisons and a disgruntled employee.
The employee was a senior internal auditor who, acting on a grudge after having been disciplined previously, published personal information about Morrison’s staff. This included payroll data relating to more than 100,000 Morrisons staff. He sent the information anonymously to UK newspapers. He received an eight-year jail sentence and subsequently 5,000 Morrisons staff brought a group action against the supermarket for compensation.
The High Court and Court of Appeal found Morrisons vicariously liable for the actions of the employee, but Morrisons appealed to the Supreme Court. They found in the supermarket’s favour,
holding that the Court of Appeal had placed too much emphasis on whether the employee had been acting within his field of activities, and that there was not a sufficient connection between his
conduct and his job.
This is a welcome decision for employers as it means it will be harder for employers to be liable for employees who have committed wrongdoings. This is particularly the case where the acts have
been done maliciously in order to damage the reputation of the employer.