Coffin Mew's Employment News
“The police are not here to create disorder. They are here to preserve disorder.”
Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago
“Director of Knowledge Architecture; Head of Protective Services; Head of Citizen Focus; Director of Criminal Justice Change.”
Assorted job titles, Suffolk Police
As you will have gathered from the opening quotations, my ramblings this week are focussed on the police and crime. I was inspired by a true report that I came upon in the Police Federation Magazine (I have a monthly subscription – honest). Apparently, a junior undercover policeman was on patrol in a high crime area, when he received a radio call from a CCTV operator to say that a suspicious character had been spotted by him on camera in the area.
The CCTV operator directed the undercover officer in the pursuit of the suspect around the streets and confidently assured the officer that he was closing in on the culprit. The chase eventually came to a successful conclusion when an experienced police sergeant walked into the CCTV control room, took one look at the events unfolding on the screen – and then pointed out to the CCTV operator that the suspicious character was in fact the undercover officer. Our boy in blue had been chasing himself for the last 20 minutes!!
Right, let’s hop in the squad car and chase a couple of interesting crime-related cases.
The Legal Bit
You might be aware that an employer can be held responsible for the actions committed by its employees when they occur "in the course of employment". This is known as vicarious liability. The phrase "in the course of employment" has frequently been interpreted widely and this principle can therefore often lead to some interesting legal decisions.
The Court of Appeal has recently looked at 2 cases to consider whether employers were vicariously liable for the violent actions of their employees towards other senior employees which arose as a result of being reasonably requested to do something.
In the case of Weddall v Barchester Healthcare Ltd, Mr Weddall worked as a manager of a care home. One night, Mr Weddall telephoned another employee, Mr Marsh, to ask if he could work the night shift.
Apparently, Mr Marsh had been drinking and he became upset when he got the call because he believed that Mr Weddall had been mocking him for being drunk. Mr Marsh immediately travelled 20 minutes on his bike to work and attacked Mr Weddall (Mr Marsh pleaded guilty to the assault later on).
Mr Weddall sued his employer for being vicariously liable for Mr Marsh's actions. Although the court agreed that Mr Marsh would not have carried out the assault if he had not been employed by the company, it said that at the time of the attack Mr Marsh was not carrying out his employment duties - he had acted personally and as such, the company should not be held vicariously liable.
In the second case, Wallbank v Wallbank Fox Designs Ltd, Mr Wallbank (the company’s Managing Director) was attacked by Mr Brown after he had been told by Mr Wallbank to fix a problem in the company’s manufacturing process during work time. Mr Brown was subsequently convicted of GBH.
As in the Weddall case, Mr Wallbank sued the company for being vicariously liable for Mr Brown's attack on him. In this case, the court decided that Mr Brown had not been acting in the course of his employment when the attack took place and therefore, the assault and Mr Brown's employment were not closely enough connected for the company to be liable.
Mr Weddall and Mr Wallbank appealed.
Mr Weddall lost. Mr Wallbank won.
In Mr Weddall's case, the Court of Appeal agreed with the earlier judgement that Mr Marsh's violent attack on the care home manager was entirely separate from his employment by the care home. The fact that the attack happened to have taken place at work was incidental and therefore the employer should not be held accountable for it.
However, the same judge disagreed with the earlier judgement in the Wallbank case. The judge decided that the company should be held accountable vicariously because of the ”spontaneous force” of Mr Brown’s violent reaction after being instructed to fix a problem by his boss.
The judge drew a distinction between the immediate violent reaction in the Wallbank case and the delay in the Weddall case (albeit only 20 minutes) between the telephone request to do the night shift, the bike ride to the care home and the attack on Mr Weddall. In the first case, to demonstrate that the latter incident was not closely enough related with the employment.
These 2 cases demonstrate how fine the line can be between an employer being found liable for its employees’ actions – and not. Ultimately, this type of case is extremely fact sensitive, but it is important for employers to be aware the extent to which their liability could extend for the actions of its employees.
As an aside.....
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (I really must stop some of my subscriptions), researchers have discovered that people with easy to pronounce names tend to be promoted quicker than employees whose names are hard to pronounce. Apparently, the problem is not to do with the length of the name or how unusual it is – it is more to do with the fact that if it is easy to pronounce a name, the individual is judged more positively.
Ironically, the research included a study of several hundred lawyers in America and their levels of success compared with the ease with which their names were pronounced.
Funnily enough, I have been thinking about this report all week – try repeating ‘Darren Tibble’ 10 times… do you see what I mean.
With immediate effect, I shall now be known as Bob Smith.
Until next week.