Negligence is the failure to adhere to the standards of behavior that the law puts in place to ensure the safety of others. In the workplace, an employer can be found negligent with regards to their staff if it is proved that they are not providing a safe work environment. The four most common complaints of negligence are in the areas of hiring, staff retention, supervision and training.

Negligence – failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under the circumstances.

Contributory negligence – can be used as a defence to negligence where claimants have, through their own behaviour, contributed to the harm they have suffered.

Vicarious liability – refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.

Case Study Example

The issue of contributory negligence may arise. In Feeney v John Sisk, an employee who set a ladder on tiles which were wet and slippery was found to be 60% negligent himself.

Hierarchy or degrees of liability

  • Absolute means must be done,
  • Where the word Shall occurs in an Act or other regulation, it must be done it is an absolute requirement.
  • Practicable means feasible or possible something other than physically possible. The measures must be possible in the light of current knowledge.

Responsibility is the state of having to deal with something . You can delegate your workload or authority but you cannot give away your responsibility.

Accountability is the state of being accountable, liable or answerable  Accountable is the acceptance of responsibility for something that was done

One reason an employer can be prosecuted for negligence is for negligent hiring of staff. Negligent hiring is when an employer hires someone who is known to have the potential to bring emotional and/or physical harm to their colleagues. It must be proved that the employer had knowledge of this potential, ie. the employer knew the would-be employee had been let go from previous employment for harassing colleagues. It is the job of all employers to create a safe work environment for their staff. In doing so, employers protect themselves from possible complaints of negligence

What is Reasonably Practicable?

An employer has exercised all due care, by putting in place the necessary protective and preventive measures, having identified the hazards and assessed the risks to safety and health, likely to result in accidents or injury to health at the place of work concerned. Also where the putting in place of any further measures is grossly disproportionate, having regard to the unusual, unforeseeable and exceptional nature of any circumstance or occurrence, that may result in an accident at work, or injury to health at that place of work.

In simpler terms it involves balancing the degree of risk to the employees against the cost in terms of money, time or trouble involved in minimising that risk. If the cost of precautionary measures is grossly disproportionate to the benefits, such precautions are  not likely to be deemed reasonably practicable.

Every employer shall ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of his or her employees (SHWW 2005)