When are Employer’s Liable for Employee’s Acts

Several legal principles have made employers, in most situations, liable for their employees’ actions that result in harm to customers, co-workers or other individuals. This liability holds the employer responsible even if they had not intended to cause harm and did not play any physical role in causing harm to the injured individual. This principle is known as the vicarious liability law.

Respondeat Superior

Respondeat Superior, Latin for “let the master answer,” is a legal doctrine that holds an employer responsible for the acts of their employees. Except in a few cases, this theory applies to all the actions that are committed within the course and scope of employment. This fact is also established in vicarious liability where the employer had the ability, right or duty to control the activities of their employee, which resulted in the injury of a third party. An employer, however, will not be held responsible for torts of an independent contractor unless there is a non-delegable duty of care that the employer owes the victim.

Two basic principles hold this employer liability law in place. First, the employer is seen as the master, dictating the activities and behavior of their employees and must, therefore, share in both the good (profit) and the bad results of those activities. Secondly, if an injured person needs to be compensated, the legal system always wants to make the victim whole. Therefore, the system will assign this liability to the employer rather than the employee to give the victim the best chance of being compensated.

Negligent Hiring and Retention

Unlike job-related accidents and misconduct, negligent hiring or retention liability is invoked by a system of law in cases where an employee misbehaves outside the scope of their employment. If it is proven that the employer acted carelessly while hiring an employee or retaining the employee after learning of the employee’s imminent danger to others, then the employer will be held liable for the harm done by the employee. This theory is commonly applied to hold an employer liable for any criminal misconduct of their employee outside the scope of employment.

Here is an example of a negligent hiring or retention liability theory. A courier company hires a person convicted of rape to deliver their parcels to residential homes, and the man rapes the occupant of a house. The courier company will be held liable for hiring the individual and giving them access to private residences without a proper background check.

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation will protect an employer from an employee’s lawsuit if an employee harms a co-worker while on-the-job. This only holds true if the employee was acting within the scope of employment when the accident took place. Instead of filing a lawsuit, the injured employee submits a claim to be compensated for medical bills and lost wages.

“When someone suffers a major injury, it often feels as if their world has been turned upside down,” says attorney Denise Bradshaw. “Every day brings new challenges, both physical and mental.”

Workers’ compensation can help workers meet these challenges by ensuring they get the care and rest they need to recover and return to work.


Workplace harassment based on a victim’s’ color, sex, race, nationality, religion, disability or age has been a major source of liability for many employers because it violates federal law. The Workplace Harassment Law protects all employees against these forms of harassment as well as employees who stand against harassment in the workplace.

Avoiding Liability

There are various ways for employers to avoid the burdensome costs of liabilities caused by their employees:

  • Conduct impartial investigations into any complaints, and take appropriate corrective action swiftly to prevent and correct harassment effectively.
  • Review your employer liability issue. Even small business owners must familiarize themselves the vicarious liability laws.
  • Establish, distribute and enforce a policy, in writing, to prohibit harassment and lay down procedures for reporting.

In some cases involving employer liability for employee’s actions, the offending employee may also be held jointly liable for the harm caused. However, the employee can seek indemnification from the employer if the conduct was within the scope and course of their employment. This holds if the employee is sued.

Adam Richards

About Adam Richards

Adam Richards is a semi-retired business professional originally from Bangor, Maine. He spent the majority of his career in sales and marketing where he rose to the marketing lead of a Fortune 1000 company. He then moved on to helping people as a career counselor that specifically helped bring families to self-sufficiency through finding them rewarding careers. He has now returned to Bangor for his retirement and spends his free time writing. This blog will be about everything he learned throughout his career. He'll write on career, workplace, education and technology issues as well as on trends, changes, and advice for the Maine job market and its employers.