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Employers can be held liable for the wrongful intentional or negligent acts of their employees in a number of ways and under a variety of legal theories. A growing number of cases hold employers liable for hiring or retaining employees who injure or others, when the employer should have known better had it properly investigated the employees’ background or supervised them appropriately.
If an employer hires an employee who is unfit for the job, and this unfitness results in an injury to another, the employer may be liable for the injuries caused. An essential element to liability is whether the employer knew or should have known the employee was unfit. Actual knowledge of unfitness should be a rare occurrence, for why would an employer purposely hire an employee it knew was unfit for the job? A more likely scenario is that the employer was negligent in hiring, and either failed to properly screen the employee, or made an unreasonable determination that the employee was fit.
A prudent employer will have standard policies and procedures in place for screening potential employees. These practices may include running a criminal background check and verifying work history and other information on the employment application to ensure it was filled out honestly and accurately. Teachers and other professionals can be checked to make sure their professional licenses are current, and any disciplinary history can be checked with the appropriate governing board, although in some professions some levels of discipline are kept private.
Former employers can be a wealth of information about their former employees, although many are reluctant to provide honest negative references for a number of reasons. Employers who lie or cover up important information, however, may find themselves liable for giving a negligent referral if the employee is hired and subsequently injures another.
It may be reasonable to hire somebody who is not yet qualified to perform all aspects of a job but who will receive on-the-job training regarding the performance of duties. This is of course a common practice. But if an employee is entrusted with a task without adequate training, and an injury results, the employer could be liable for negligent entrustment or negligent training. Examples would be entrusting a bus or truck to an untrained driver, or putting a forklift driver or crane operator to work without the necessary training on how to operate the equipment. All employees should be given adequate and appropriate training on basic work rules and safety to prevent workplace accidents.
“Unfitness” may include more than just professional incompetence, and could include violent or inappropriate behavior as well. An employee with a history of violence or a record of sexual harassment, for instance, may be considered unfit. Employees who work with children or who have custodial care over others, from jails to nursing homes and hospitals, should be carefully investigated for any indications of a propensity for violence or misconduct.
Employers can be held liable for acts of their employees under other established legal theories as well, such as the laws of agency or the doctrines of vicarious liability and respondeat superior. An employer can be liable for Negligent Supervision if an employee is not properly monitored and injures another, or for Negligent Retention for keeping a dangerous employee on the payroll after being on notice of the employee’s dangerous or harassing behavior.
At Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C., we represent injured workers, customers or other parties who are harmed by another. We also work to hold the employer accountable when it is responsible for allowing the injury to occur, either through negligent hiring, negligent supervision, or other established legal principles. For any serious personal injury in New York City, contact our office for a free consultation regarding the compensation owed to you by the responsible parties.