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Are Employers Liable for Injuries to Employees, Even If the Employees Are at Fault?

On Behalf of Christian Ayers
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It can be difficult and somewhat painful to determine fault in the event of a workplace accident. It can feel personal to blame someone for your injuries, even if that someone is yourself. However, in certain situations, it is legally necessary to prove liability. The real question might be: “Are employers liable for injuries to employees, even if the employees are at fault?” If you were in a workplace accident, reach out to a Hickory workers’ compensation attorney today.

Are employers liable for injuries to employees even if the employees are at fault?

Determining Fault in a Workplace Accident

There are certain cases where a company is considered liable for an employee’s injury, even if the employee’s direct actions led to said injury. The legal term for this doctrine is “respondeat superior,” which translates from Latin to “Let the superior answer.” Essentially, under this doctrine, an employer is held responsible for their employee’s actions. However, the doctrine only applies if the employee is acting within their job description.

If an employee is acting outside of their required job, there is a decent chance that the employer will not be held liable for their actions. The employer will usually be found liable for any damages that the employee has caused if the employee is:

  • Acting within the scope of their employment
  • Carrying out company business as ordered
  • Acting on behalf of the company in any way

Part of the benefit of workers’ compensation is that it largely protects companies from legal action taken by injured employees. There are always exceptions, but injured workers who receive workers’ compensation for their injuries are generally unable to sue their employers.

Different Types of Employer Liability

Injuries to employees and/or customers are just one area of potential liability that employers have to face. Employers are supposed to foster a safe, productive work environment for their employees that does not invite charges of criminality or negligence. However, it does happen. When a situation arises in the workplace that could lead to some sort of legal action, there is a good chance that liability will fall on the employer. Here are some examples:

Workplace Harassment

Nobody should be harassed in the workplace for any reason. Not only is it morally wrong to target someone offensively, it is a violation of state and federal law to do so. It is an employer’s job to build a workplace environment that discourages and reports harassment of every kind, including harassment due to:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age

Failing to do anything about workplace harassment can open an employer up to fines, legal action, and public embarrassment, among other kinds of fallout.

Negligent Hiring/Retention

When hiring employees, it is up to the employer to ensure that every prospective hire goes through a sufficient background check. Failure to do so could result in hiring someone dangerous or unqualified. Negligent retention involves keeping someone employed who you already know is dangerous or unqualified for the job they have. If that employee causes an incident, the liability will likely fall on the employer for keeping them on while knowing that they were a potential problem.

Wrongful Termination

While North Carolina is an “at-will” employment state, there are still incidents where firing an employee is the wrong move and can open the employer up to potential legal action. Employers cannot, for example, fire an employee in retaliation for reporting unlawful behavior to the authorities or the HR department.


Q: In What Situations Would an Employer Be Liable for the Actions of an Employee?

A: There are many different situations where the actions of an employee can be considered the fault of their employer. One such example would be hiring a truck driver with a history of drunk driving without looking into their past. If that truck driver was drinking on the job and caused a bad accident, the employer could be held liable for failing to properly vet the driver when they hired them.

Q: Is an Employer Liable for an Employee’s Negligence?

A: In many cases, yes, an employer is liable for an employee’s negligence. If an employee is negligent while performing their job duties and something happens, the liability for that incident often falls on the employer as an unfortunate part of the cost of business. However, if the employee causes an incident while tending to a personal, non-work-related matter, there is a good chance that liability will fall on the employee, as it has nothing to do with business.

Q: When Can Employees Be Liable for Mistakes Made at Work?

A: There are many different instances where employees can be held liable for their own mistakes that were made at work, instead of their employers. If an employer orders an employee to perform an illegal act and the employee goes along with it, both will be held responsible. Every individual is responsible for their own action or inaction, after all. Also, if an employee causes an accident while doing something unrelated to their job or outside of their job requirements, liability will likely fall on them.

Q: In an Accident Involving an Employee, Can an Employer Be Held Liable for Any Damages That They Caused?

A: For the most part, yes, an employer is held liable for damages caused by an accident involving an employee. If the employee’s actions lead to damages as a result of work-related negligence, blame will likely fall on the employer. It all comes down to whether the accident was caused by an employee in the performance of their job or not. If the accident is indeed found to be work-related, then liability will rest with the employer.

An Experienced Lawyer Can Help Determine Liability

It is widely expected of business owners to employ competent, qualified employees for their staff. However, accidents can happen, and, depending on the situation, it may fall on the employers to accept liability. It may be wise to speak to a workers’ compensation lawyer to understand what your options are. The legal team at Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler is prepared to help you figure out your next steps. Contact us to schedule a consultation.