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Employer not liable for workplace horseplay

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31st January, 2022

In the case of Chell v. Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd (“TCL”), the Court of Appeal recently upheld that an employer was not vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, when a practical joke in the workplace went wrong.

One of TCL’s employees struck an exploding pellet target close to Mr Chell as a practical joke, however the pellet exploded and caused Mr Chell to suffer a perforated eardrum, tinnitus and noise induced hearing loss.

Mr Chell brought a personal injury claim against TCL claiming that they were vicariously liable for the actions of their employee.

The Court of Appeal found that there was a ‘too distant’ link between the employer and the wrongful act. It was established that because the exploding pellet target was not TLC’s equipment and did not form part of their employee’s work, the link was too remote. The employer was not vicariously liable for the actions of an employee whose practical joke caused unintentional injury to an individual at work.

Whilst this may bring some comfort to employers, it is important that appropriate training and policies are implemented as a general warning that employees should not knowingly or recklessly engage in horseplay or misuse any company property or equipment.

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