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Employers' Liability for Failing to Screen Potential Employees

“Negligent hiring” is a legal doctrine that holds employers liable for unlawful acts committed by their employees. The issue arises when an employer hires a person that she knew or should have known could pose an undue risk of harm to others within the course and scope of employment.

Under this doctrine, the employer has the responsibility for checking the background and references of any job applicant before placing that individual in a situation of contact with the public. Examples of businesses particularly at risk may include:

  • Schools
  • Housing
  • Youth organizations
  • Customer-service

Establishing a Claim Under Negligent Hiring

A person that alleges injuries caused by an employee and expects to hold the employer liable under the doctrine of negligent hiring must show that:

  1. The employer owed a duty to that person because there was an association or connection between that person and the services or business the employer provides;
  2. The nature and frequency of the employee’s contact with the public may pose a potential risk of harm; and
  3. Evidence of the employee’s potential risk to others existed prior to and at the time of the hiring and that the employer failed to investigate.

Negligent Hiring Frequently Cited in Litigation

In December, 2005, the parents of an eight year-old boy filed a lawsuit against FedEx Corp., alleging the negligent hiring of Paul Sykes, a convicted sex offender. The lawsuit alleged that Sykes approached the family at the Connecticut FedEx Kinko’s store where he was employed, and offered to repair their home computer. While visiting their home to repair the computer, Sykes allegedly assaulted their son. The lawsuit asserted that FedEx knew, or should have known, of Sykes’ dangerous propensities as a sexual predator. In April of 2007 Sykes was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the molestation. In 2008, a federal judge dismissed the civil lawsuit against FedEx, ruling the company could not be held responsible for the conduct of its employee outside the workplace. The case is currently on appeal.

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