As an employee, you expect your workplace to provide a safe environment free from harm. However, incidents of sexual assault and harassment are all too common in companies today. If you have been victimized by a coworker or manager while on the job or at a work-related event, you may be entitled to pursue legal action. Hiring an experienced sexual abuse lawyer can help protect your rights. Companies have a duty to protect employees from foreseeable harm, and failure to do so can make them liable for damages.
When Can a Company Be Held Liable for Sexual Assault?
When a company fails to protect employees or customers from sexual assault on their premises or during business-related activities, they may face legal liability. There are a few scenarios where a company can be held liable in a civil lawsuit for damages related to sexual assault:
If the assault was committed by an employee, the company can be held vicariously liable under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, meaning "let the master answer". The company is responsible for the actions of employees acting within the scope of their employment. Failing to properly screen, train or supervise employees can also lead to liability.
A company has a duty to provide reasonably safe premises and working conditions. If poor security, broken locks or lack of policies enabled an assault by any party, the company can be found negligent. The plaintiff must show the company knew or should have known about the risk of harm.
During off-site or after-hours mandatory work events like conferences, training, or staff parties, a company still owes a duty of care to attendees. Lack of proper safeguards or continuing to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals can demonstrate negligence.
By being proactive and implementing strong sexual harassment policies, training programs, security measures and response protocols, companies can limit liability risks. However, if an assault still occurs, conducting a thorough investigation and taking appropriate corrective action is critical to avoiding legal consequences. No one should have to risk their safety at work or doing their job. Companies have an obligation to prevent hostile and abusive environments.
Vicarious Liability: Holding Companies Accountable for Employee Actions
Companies can be held liable for the harmful actions of their employees under certain circumstances. This is known as vicarious liability. If an employee commits an act of sexual assault or harassment in the course of their employment, the company may face legal consequences.
For vicarious liability to apply, the employee must be acting within the scope of their employment. This means the employee is carrying out job duties or tasks assigned by the company at the time of the incident. It also must be reasonably foreseeable that such conduct could occur. For example, a company may be liable if an employee assaults a customer or coworker during working hours on company property. However, the company likely would not be liable if the employee assaulted someone at their private residence during non-working hours.
In these situations, the victim can file a civil lawsuit against the company to recover damages related to physical harm, emotional distress, medical bills, and lost wages. Companies should take reasonable care to prevent such incidents by implementing comprehensive harassment and assault prevention policies, providing regular employee training, and responding promptly to any reports of inappropriate behavior. Failure to take appropriate action can be used as evidence of negligence.
Settlements in these types of cases can be quite significant. It is in a company’s best interest financially and reputationally to cultivate a safe environment and culture where any form of harassment is not tolerated. No employee or customer should have to experience the trauma of assault, especially not in a place of work or business. Holding organizations accountable for the actions of their employees, whether intentional or not, is an important mechanism to drive real change.
Negligent Hiring and Supervision of Employees
If an employee sexually assaults someone while on the job or on company property, the victim may be able to hold the company liable through claims of negligent hiring or negligent supervision.
When a company fails to exercise reasonable care in hiring employees, it can be found liable for resulting harm. If the company knew or should have known the employee posed a risk to others, yet still hired them, the company may be deemed negligent in its hiring practices. For example, if a background check would have revealed a history of sexual misconduct or violence, but was not conducted, this could indicate negligence.
Similarly, if a company fails to properly oversee, monitor and control employees, it can be liable for damages from their actions. For instance, if the company was aware of previous inappropriate behavior by the employee toward coworkers or customers but did not take corrective action, it may be found negligent in supervising that employee. Negligent supervision also includes failing to implement adequate policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment and assault, as well as failing to properly train managers and employees on appropriate conduct and how to report inappropriate behavior.
While employers cannot always control or predict employee behavior, they do have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care in hiring and supervising staff. When that duty of care is breached, victims of workplace harassment, abuse, or violence should not hesitate to explore all legal options for seeking just compensation and accountability. Holding companies liable for the negligent actions of employees is one way to help promote safer work environments for all.
Failure to Protect Customers or Clients From Assault
As a business owner, you have a legal duty to provide a safe environment for your customers and clients. Failure to do so can make you liable for any harm that results, including in cases of assault. If a customer or client is sexually assaulted on your premises, they may be able to hold your company legally responsible.
To avoid liability, you must take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable criminal acts like sexual assault. This includes:
- Proper security measures such as alarm systems, security cameras, and adequate lighting in all areas of your premises, especially isolated or dimly lit locations.
- Properly training your employees on security protocols and how to handle emergency situations. Employees should know how to spot predatory behavior and how to intervene safely.
- Conducting thorough background checks on any employees or independent contractors who will have direct contact with customers or access to sensitive areas. Check for any previous reports of violence, harassment, or predatory behavior.
- Maintaining well-lit parking lots and walkways for the safety of customers traveling to and from your business.
If an assault still occurs on your premises, you must respond promptly and appropriately. This includes contacting the authorities immediately, preserving any evidence of the crime, and cooperating fully with the subsequent investigation. You should also review your security measures to determine how they can be improved to prevent future incidents.
While no business owner wants to consider the possibility of such a disturbing event occurring at their company, failing to prepare for this scenario and take reasonable precautions to ensure customer safety can have serious legal consequences. By making security a priority and learning how to properly respond in the event of an emergency, you can limit your liability risk and provide a safe environment for your customers and clients.
Examples of Successful Cases Against Companies for Sexual Assault
Successful cases against companies for sexual assault typically involve instances where the company was negligent in preventing the assault or properly responding to reports of inappropriate behavior. For example:
Lack of Policies or Training
If a company fails to implement policies prohibiting sexual harassment and assault or does not properly train employees on these policies, it can be found liable. In Turner v. Pizza Corner, a delivery driver sexually assaulted a customer. The court found Pizza Corner liable because it had no policy on sexual harassment and did not train the driver.
Ignoring Prior Complaints
When companies ignore or do not properly investigate complaints about an employee's inappropriate behavior, they may be liable if that employee goes on to commit an assault. In Jane Doe v. Starbucks, several employees complained that a shift supervisor made unwanted sexual advances, but Starbucks took no action. The shift supervisor later assaulted an employee, and Starbucks was found liable.
Retaliating Against Victims
If a company punishes or fires an employee for reporting a sexual assault, it can face legal consequences. In Smith v. XYZ Corp., an employee reported a coworker for groping her. XYZ Corp. subsequently cut her hours and eventually terminated her employment. The court found XYZ Corp. liable for retaliation against the victim.
Failure to Supervise
Inadequate supervision of employees, especially in isolated areas like parking garages, also exposes companies to liability. In the case of Tina Johnson v. Parking Garage Inc., an attendant sexually assaulted Johnson in an empty section of the garage. The court determined Parking Garage Inc. failed to properly supervise the attendant and monitor secluded areas where assaults could occur undetected.
In summary, companies may face legal liability for sexual assault if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate behavior, do not properly respond to reports of misconduct, retaliate against victims, or inadequately supervise employees. Establishing policies, training staff, promptly investigating complaints, and avoiding retaliation can help reduce a company's liability.
Contact Fletcher Law For Help With A Sexual Assault Case
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Companies can potentially be held liable for the criminal actions of their employees under certain circumstances.
Negligent Hiring or Supervision
A company has a duty to exercise reasonable care in hiring and supervising employees. If a company fails to properly screen a potential employee’s background or does not take appropriate action in response to known issues, it can be considered negligent. For example, if an employee has a history of sexual misconduct that the company ignored or failed to uncover during the hiring process, the company may be liable for any assaults that employee commits. The company can also be held liable if it does not take appropriate action in response to reported incidents of misconduct.
Under the legal theory of vicarious liability, a company can be held responsible for the actions of its employees that were committed within the scope of employment. Even if the company was not directly negligent in hiring or supervising the employee, it may still face liability. The key question is whether the employee was acting to further the company’s business interests, even if the acts were misguided or unauthorized.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an assault by an employee, contact the experienced attorneys at Fletcher Law for a free consultation regarding your legal options. We have successfully represented clients in cases involving negligent hiring, supervision, and vicarious liability, securing compensation for the harm caused by the wrongful actions of companies and their employees.