Employee Negligence: What You Need to Know
Employees can sometimes do negligent things. Therefore, employers want to know what constitutes negligence and if they are responsible.
This post provides answers. We discuss what employee negligence is, whether you are liable, and some common examples of negligence in practice.
What is employee negligence?
Workers can make mistakes at work that cause harm. Legally, the law refers to these as “employee negligence,” though it may not hold them personally liable if they made the errors as part of the regular scope of their work.
Employee negligence does not include criminal acts that lead to harm. For instance, employees are not merely negligent if they steal from customers or deliberately set fire to buildings. Instead, they are committing felonies.
Situations of employer negligence
Employer negligence is not the same as employee negligence. It refers to actions by the employer that lead to loss, theft, injury, death, or other kinds of harm. Good examples include:
- Failure to conduct background checks on violent employees
- Providing employees with faulty equipment
- Management politics that cause injury or harm to workers
Are employees personally liable for negligence?
In most cases, employers, not employees, are liable for negligence under “vicarious liability” laws. Corporate law states that owners and managers are responsible for the mistakes made by the wrongful acts or omissions of another individual, including those they hire. The statute means that organizations must bear responsibility for the legal penalties incurred by workers, protecting colleagues from excessive fees and bankruptcy while ensuring victims get proper compensation.
The case against employees is strongest when:
- Workers can show they received insufficient instruction on how to perform a task that later caused harm
- Workers can show their employer hired them to perform tasks or take on roles without proper experience or understanding, which caused harm
To avoid the risk of vicarious liability, employers must ensure they provide their workers with proper training and instructions. This typically focuses on reducing the risk for the employer and keeping the worker in good standing with the company.
Companies and organizations found guilty of employee negligence can face a range of legal consequences, including compensation payments to the injured party. Courts may shut down companies or force them to revise employee handbooks in cases of widespread negligent activity.
Plaintiffs can also make claims against employers under negligent entrustment laws ( a combination of negligence, injury, and tort laws). These statutes cover what happens if an employer entrusts a “dangerous” item to a worker who then goes on to cause harm with it.
For example, supervisors may permit employees to drive a company vehicle to a client. If a worker causes injury to a third party, they can sue the firm under negligent entrustment laws if they show the organization should not have entrusted the property to them.
The key issue regarding employee negligence is whether harm was foreseeable as it relates to the worker’s scope of employment. If it is, courts may hold companies liable. However, if it isn’t and actions “substantially deviate” from regular employment duties, employers won’t be held liable.
For instance, suppose you hire an employee to provide plumbing services, but they decide to offer clients advice on medical treatment. In this situation, courts will not hold employers responsible because it is not a normal part of their work.
What are some examples of negligence?
Good examples of negligence under vicarious liability include:
- Hiring employees who do not have the necessary skill to perform a task (but who later go on to cause injury or harm to others)
- Failing to train employees on their job duties and requirements, leading to injury or loss of property
- Failing to deal with known instances of harassment by either disciplining offending employees or firing them
- Failing to put policies in place designed to minimize the risk of harm to employees, managers, customers, clients, or third-party contractors
- Allowing workers to conduct tasks without sufficient supervision, particularly of unskilled or under-qualified individuals
- Failing to determine whether an employee was physically or mentally fit to carry out their duties (or failing to regularly check workers’ health to ensure they can still perform their roles safely)
Some examples of negligence under entrustment laws could include:
- Asking employees to drive a vehicle without a license or proper accreditation
- Asking employees to use dangerous equipment without training
- Putting workers in charge of an activity that causes harm
What are Liabilities for Employees?
Liabilities for employees refer to the various obligations and responsibilities that an employee may have within a workplace. These can include legal, financial, and ethical aspects. Some common examples of employee liabilities are:
- Legal liabilities: Employees must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, such as employment laws, safety standards, and privacy regulations. Failure to do so may result in fines, penalties, or even legal action against the individual or the company.
- Financial liabilities: Employees can be held liable for financial losses or damages caused by their negligence or willful misconduct. This may include theft, fraud, or mismanagement of company funds or resources.
- Ethical liabilities: Employees have an obligation to uphold the ethical standards and values of their organization. This can involve avoiding conflicts of interest, maintaining confidentiality, and treating colleagues with respect. Breaching these standards can result in disciplinary actions or even termination.
- Contractual liabilities: Employees are bound by the terms of their employment contract, which may include confidentiality agreements, non-compete clauses, and other provisions. Violating these terms can lead to legal action or other consequences.
- Performance liabilities: Employees are expected to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. Failure to meet performance standards can result in consequences such as probation, demotion, or termination.
- Workplace safety liabilities: Employees are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment and following safety guidelines. Negligence or failure to report hazards can lead to accidents, injuries, or other liabilities.
It's important for employees to be aware of their liabilities and to act responsibly to minimize risks for themselves and their employers.
In conclusion, employee negligence can have far-reaching consequences for both employees and employers, including financial losses, reputational damage, and legal liabilities. As the workplace continues to evolve, it is crucial for organizations to be proactive in minimizing the risks associated with negligence by implementing comprehensive training programs, fostering a culture of responsibility, and maintaining open lines of communication.
If you or your organization are facing issues related to employee negligence or require legal guidance to prevent potential liabilities, we encourage you to reach out to our experienced team at Shultz Legal. Our dedicated attorneys specialize in employment law and can provide expert advice to help you navigate the complexities of employee negligence, protect your organization from potential legal challenges, and ensure a safe and productive work environment for all.