Employer liable for employee's theft

In the recent case of Brink's Global Services v Igrox the Court of Appeal considered the question of when an employer may have to pay for its employee's crimes.

In this case, the employee in question had the job of fumigating containers which contained bars of silver. He stole 15 silver bars which were never found. The container owners claimed compensation from his employer. The employer, relying on decisions in earlier cases, argued that the employee was clearly acting outside the scope of his employment when he stole the silver. His job had only given him the opportunity to do so and his employer could not be legally responsible for his actions.

However, the Court of Appeal was persuaded that the question that had to be asked was whether the employee's unlawful act was so closely connected with his employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer liable. In this case, that connection was there. The employee stole from the very container that he had been sent to fumigate. The theft was a risk reasonably incidental to the purpose for which he was employed.

Points to note

  • In reaching this decision, the Court of Appeal reviewed many earlier judgments on this issue. Its decision in this case should now be regarded as authoritative and one that will be followed in subsequent cases.
  • The Court gave the example of the unauthorised use of office equipment by a cleaner who is employed to clean it, and other similar forms of misuse. Earlier case law had held that the employer was not vicariously liable for such actions as the employment merely provided the opportunity for the wrong to be committed. However the Court said that such actions are now likely to be regarded as wrongs committed 'in the course of employment' for which the employer may be liable.