Ultimately, people are the main force that drives a business. Your shareholders and executives have their roles in decision-making, managers and supervisors handle floor-level administration, and employees are ultimately the ones who make everything go. However, as important as employees are to a company, it can sometimes be a risk for a business to hire people on its team.
For this reason, it’s important for employers to be well aware of what liabilities they might face and how to mitigate them. It also helps for employees to be aware of these risks as well going in—in some cases, an employee’s conduct may fall upon their employer, but in other cases, it may not.
One of the first items that may come to mind when the term “employer liability” comes up is the principle of respondeat superior. This principle, which is Latin for “let the master answer,” makes employers liable for negligent acts performed by their employees in the course of fulfilling work-related duties.
For instance, if an employee is driving a company vehicle to make a delivery and gets in an accident, their employer could be held liable. However, if the employee was using the vehicle to run some errands that weren’t related to their work duties, the respondeat superior wouldn’t apply.
An employer may also be held liable for negligent hiring. For instance, if an employer knowingly hires someone with a past of theft to make repairs in people’s homes, the employer could be held liable for that employee’s criminal actions. As such, employers need to be careful about who they hire in order to minimize liability.
Workplace Health and Safety
Workplace safety laws are always a concern for businesses, especially manufacturing, shipping, and similar labor-intensive industries. Maintaining equipment, managing accidents and spills, and other safety matters are important to keeping employer liability down.
While an employee may not necessarily be able to sue their employer for a workplace accident, it’s still important to keep safety issues under control. Increases in workplace injuries mean higher insurance premiums, ultimately costing money to the company.
Under Illinois law, most employers need to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Regardless of fault, an employer is held liable for any injuries their employees sustain while on the job, so maintaining coverage is key. Failure to carry insurance (or to self-insure, where possible) exposes the company to a high level of liability, including potential criminal charges.
Many employment-related lawsuits stem from human rights issues. An employer has a duty under the Illinois Human Rights Act to avoid discrimination against any party, whether in terms of hiring, pay, treatment, or advancement opportunities.
An employer may also face liability in instances where an employee is wrongfully dismissed or denied opportunities under whistleblower laws. As such, a company must avoid situations where they are found guilty of retaliation against an employee.
In order to minimize these liabilities, employers should seek legal counsel when devising company policies and handling lawsuits. Hart David Carson LLP can assist both employers and employees when dealing with common liability issues.