In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc  UKSC 11 (“Mohamud”) the Supreme Court overturned a Court of Appeal decision in finding that an employer was liable for a vicious and unprovoked attack carried out by its employee.
There is a general principle that employers may be liable for torts committed by an employee provided that a two stage test is satisfied; this liability is known as vicarious liability.
Firstly, there must be a relationship between the wrongdoer (the employee) and the person alleged to be liable (the employer) which is capable of giving rise to vicarious liability. Although there are exceptions, an employee/employer relationship is usually sufficient to satisfy this element of the test.
Secondly, the connection between the wrongful act and the employment must be ‘so closely connected…that it would be fair and just to hold the employers liable’ (Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd  UKHL 22). In Dubai Aluminium Co Ltd v Salaam  UKHL 48 Lord Nicholls stated that assessment of whether the second limb is satisfied will ‘require a value judgment…made in the particular circumstances ‘.
In Mohamud, Mr Khan (an employee of a Morrisons supermarket) had carried out a vicious and unprovoked attack on Mr Mohamud after telling him to leave the premises. The attack started in the kiosk as a verbal altercation involving foul and racist language but resulted in Mr Khan seriously assaulting Mr Mohamud on the station forecourt. Mr Mohamud brought a claim against Morrisons for personal injury, claiming that they, as Mr Khan’s employers, were liable for his actions.
The lower court and the Court of Appeal both held that the wrongful act perpetrated by Mr Khan was not closely connected enough to his employment to establish vicarious liability because Mr Khan’s job duties did not involve the clear possibility of a confrontation, nor place him in a situation where violence was likely.
However, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld Mr Mohamud’s appeal, stating that the acts of Mr Khan were sufficiently closely connected to his employment for it to be just that Morrisons should be vicariously liable for his acts. While Mr Khan had clearly a grossly abused his position, the violence had been carried out in connection with the business of serving customers. Accordingly, Morrisons should be held vicariously liable. In their decision the Supreme Court affirmed the two stage test and illustrated the broad approach that would take in respect of the close connection test (second stage).
Employers should be aware that in certain circumstances they may be held liable for their employee’s wrongdoings.