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Who is Liable If an Employee Breaks the Law off the Business Premises?

It is a known fact that some people who break the law, whether intentionally or not, from time to time, while they are doing their job. Some are also noted to be using company resources (such as a vehicle supplied by the company) during the act. In such instances, who is to blame – the offender or the company/employer for who the person is working for? Who is held legally responsible if an Employee commits a crime or act, outside of his working premises? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Respondeat superior

There is a legal doctrine that has existed for quite some time now, known as respondeat superior, which is Latin for “let the superior answer.” This essentially means that an employer can be legally Held Liable for negative acts committed by any of its employees during the course and scope of his employment. Additionally, employers could be held liable for both negligent acts committed by employees, as well as intentional criminal acts. These employees could be full-time workers, part-time, or even independent contractors or temporary workers.

The important thing to note here is if the employee was deemed to be acting in the scope or course of his employment at the time of the act. If the employee was acting due to personal motives, then the employer will not be held liable. Let’s take a look at two examples (or scenarios) with contrasting results.

  • Example 1 – A popular pizza restaurant offers a delivery promo, saying that your pizza will be delivered within 30 minutes; otherwise, the next order is free. The pizza delivery guy, in his haste to meet the deadline, hits a pedestrian while driving. The pizza company would likely be liable as a result.
  • Example 2 –This same delivery guy uses the company vehicle after the restaurant closes and hits a pedestrian while on the way to a friend’s house. The company would likely not be held liable since the delivery guy was not acting in the scope of employment during the accident.

Vicarious liability

However, employers could still be held liable for the acts of its employees outside the scope of employment, in some cases, which is known as vicarious liability. The prerequisite to this is that the employer must have known or had enough reason to know that a particular employee posed an unreasonable risk to others. It is the duty of the employers to verify job backgrounds, including any licenses, degrees, and previous work experience of all applicants. For jobs requiring driving, it is the employer’s duty to check driving records. If the employer was found to be negligent in these, there is a chance that he could be held legally responsible for acts committed by his employee.


If you are an employer and you would like to be free from any liabilities, there are ways to prevent this. In the words of a criminal defense attorney, vigilance is what it needed.

Perform background checks in order to ensure that your employees have clean records. Doing so will help you weed out the good applicants from the potentially dangerous ones.

Take swift action on employees that have posed or look to pose danger, especially to co-workers. For example, if one employee tends to use derogatory words towards a female co-worker, take action to try to stop the behavior. Otherwise, you could be liable for allowing sexual harassment to happen. At the very least, conduct an internal investigation to see if some disciplinary action needs to be meted out.

This post first appeared on Small Biz Viewpoints, please read the originial post: here

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Who is Liable If an Employee Breaks the Law off the Business Premises?


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