Are Employers Liable for Intentionally Harmful Acts by Their Employees?


It is well established that employers are legally responsible for injuries their employees cause within the course and scope of their employment. The theory behind this is that the employer enjoys the financial advantage from the employees’ efforts and should therefore be responsible when those efforts lead to injury. This remains true even if the employer itself was not negligent and fault rests solely on the employee who was careless or reckless. What if, however, the employee’s conduct is intentional?

This issue has become especially prominent following a rash of stories involving teachers engaging in inappropriate relationships with students in Florida schools, but it applies in many other contexts as well. Unlike cases involving employee negligence, liability is not automatically imputed to the employer for intentional or willful employee conduct. However, the employer can still be liable if its own negligent acts put the employee in a position to do harm, such as in the following examples:

  • The employer failed to vet and research the employee adequately before hiring.
  • The employer did not reasonably supervise the employee.
  • The employer should have known of the employee’s conduct but failed to take reasonable action to address it.
  • The employer should have known that the employee was likely to engage in harmful conduct but did not take reasonable steps to prevent it.

In these types of cases, an employer can be held responsible when an employee intentionally causes harm. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees in sensitive positions, such as teachers, camp counselors and child care workers, are stable and trustworthy.

Topics:  Employer Liability Issues, Intentional Torts, Vicarious Liability

Published In: Labor & Employment Updates, Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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