Employee negligence is a failure to provide an expected duty of care to customers and employers that causes harm. For example, a property manager has a responsibility to respond to tenant complaints about health and safety situations. If a tenant reports bad wiring and the property manager does not act, he would be liable for damages if the wiring caused a fire. Employers can sue for employee negligence, as can customers harmed by the employee's actions.
The duty of care expected from an employee varies by industry. In some industries, employees are considered highly skilled professionals, and their level of responsibility is much higher. The threshold of proof in employee negligence cases of this nature may be lower. Doctors and nurses, for example, have professional training that leads patients to put trust in them, and must behave with caution. Likewise, any employee with a fiduciary duty has a high duty of care, as customers put funds and financial information into the hands of these employees. Conversely, a retail clerk has less responsibility.
In employee negligence cases, it is necessary to establish that the employee's duty of care was clearly defined, and she breached it by acting negligently. There can be gray areas in such cases that sometimes make them challenging to prosecute. For example, an employee who accidentally sends information to an incorrect address may not necessarily be acting negligently, but if that information should not have been sent out in the first place, the employee breaches his duty of care and is liable for damages if that information gets into the wrong hands.
Employee handbooks typically provide detailed information about duties and responsibilities. In the case of health care practitioners, attorneys, and parties with fiduciary duties like accountants and bank tellers, the handbook may also include guidelines from a professional organization to remind the employee of industry standards. Employees who are not clear on their responsibilities should ask, as they could be found liable for negligence for failing to fully comprehend their responsibilities.
When suits arise over negligence, consumers may sue an employer for breach of duty, and the employer could potentially argue employee negligence, placing the blame on the staff member who caused the problem. Employers can also sue their employees on an individual level for causing damage to the company, such as financial losses or a decline in the company's reputation. Employees defending themselves in negligence cases may attempt to show that the alleged duty of care goes beyond reasonable expectations, or could argue that they were not properly trained, putting the responsibility back on their employers.