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How do you avoid negligent hiring lawsuits?

What's your liability for the willful acts of an unstable or angry employee who injures either other employees or customers?

A lot.

"Negligent hiring" is the term used to describe a situation where an employer hires someone without doing a sufficient background check when doing so might have prevented someone's injury.

Employers aren't expected to dig particularly deep when checking an employee's background. However, failing to perform at least a minimum amount of research is a serious issue.

For example, imagine that you hire a young man for a position as an account representative. The employee has a good degree and a solid work history. Unfortunately, he steals the identity of a few of your clients in order to open up some credit cards. You realize that you never did even a quick background check on the employee before hiring him. Your failure to investigate comes back to haunt you when it turns out that the employee had a history of theft convictions.

Similarly, imagine that you hire a seemingly nice woman to work as your office manager. You run a background check on her and find nothing particularly concerning. One day, she loses her temper and suddenly throws a stapler at one of your other employees. The injured employee finds out that the woman had lost her previous job after slapping a co-worker who offended her -- which you would have known if you'd called for a reference.

In both cases, the injured party had a right to expect a certain amount of safety. You can be held liable for their injuries because you didn't take a reasonable amount of care to provide that safety.

What's the best way to avoid liability over negligent hiring? Given the knowledge that about 35 percent (or more) people lie on their job applications, you can't merely screen out bad employees using that process. Instead:

  • Include a basic criminal background check of your potential employees as part of your hiring process.
  • Actually call a prospective employee's references and ask, point blank, if there are any known issues that should concern you.
  • If you are hiring someone to drive a vehicle for the company, check his or her driving history as well.

You still won't capture every possible red flag that way, but you will be able to document your attempts -- and that's what can help you avoid liability in the end.

Source: pubs.acs.org, "Memo to Managers: Avoid Negligent Hiring," accessed May 02, 2018

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