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Vicarious Liability - How to keep your business safe when your employee commits a crime

You hope that your employees will never get you into trouble. Unfortunately, that might not be the case. It's important to be prepared in case the day comes that someone working for you commits a crime. Though you haven't been involved, you could be considered to be vicariously liable. Prevent that from happening with these tips.

Create strict policies

When you are setting out contracts and job descriptions, make sure that you have policies that are very clear about what the employee is and is not allowed to do. If it is considered that you gave the employee an opportunity to abuse their power and commit a crime, then you are liable – so don’t create the opportunities. Make it clear that illegal acts will not be tolerated and have job policies which dictate how the work should be done. Have a lawyer look over all of this documentation to assess whether you are still giving too much leeway.
keep your business safe

Do thorough background checks

If you do not check your employees to discover a previous criminal record, and they reoffend while working for you, then you could be held liable. It’s important that you carry out thorough background checks instead of just trusting the employee’s word. If you do hire someone with a previous record, it’s important to handle them properly. Make sure that they are loyal to the company, so that they would not consider committing a crime at work. Keep them restricted in their duties and access so that they have fewer opportunities to commit a crime.

Provide training

Make sure that your new employees, as well as current employees on a regular basis, are given training on what not to do. This should include behaviour in the workplace, as bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination are all considered to be crimes. The training can be either online or face to face, but it does need to be done. Educating your employees makes them less likely to commit a crime in the first place, but is also good for showing that you have done your part in a court case. A good lawyer may be able to help you avoid liability if you have done this step to the right degree.

Be clear on discipline

If an employee shows early signs of breaking the law, it’s time to discipline them as clearly as possible. Make sure that the punishment is appropriate to the crime. For example, if someone has stolen from you, it might be time to let them go. If an employee has been sexually harassing someone else, suspending them while you investigate and then giving them a written warning would be a good first step. This shows that you are not going to tolerate things going any further. If they do continue, or you don’t do enough to face them in the first place, you could find their victims going to a lawyer – which is when you start to become liable.

Don’t hold on to rogues

If you have an employee who constantly breaks the rules, it’s time to let them go. When you get to court and it is clear that you have not taken the appropriate action against them, it won’t look good to the judge. It’s not always easy to find a way to fire someone which would not be considered unfair, so make sure your disciplinary process is outlined clearly.

Taking these measures will help to ease the burden of liability, but you still need to be on your guard for cases which go beyond what you can control.

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 19th March 2017.
Lucy Taylor
A blogger and a legal expert from Sydney

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