• William Kanaan

Employer not liable for consequences of employee's practical joke in the workplace

The High Court has held that an employer was not negligent or vicariously liable for the actions of an employee whose practical joke unintentionally caused injury to a contractor at work.


Even where the injured party had previously made his supervisor aware that there were rising tensions between employees and contractors on-site, the court held that there was no foreseeable risk of injury as tensions were not so serious as to suggest the threat of violence or confrontation.


The court further held that it was expecting too much of an employer to create and put in place health and safety or other policies which capture horseplay and practical jokes. It was not reasonable to expect an employer to increase supervision to prevent horseplay, ill-discipline or malice.


Following the Supreme Court's decision in Morrison Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants [2020], the court held that, although the incident happened in the workplace, the employer was not vicariously liable for the employee's actions. Those actions were unconnected with any instruction given to the employee in connection with his work and did not in any way advance the purpose of his employer. The workplace merely provided the opportunity to carry out the prank, rather than it being within the employee's work activities.


Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd [2020] EWHC 2613 (QB)


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