It’s one of HR’s worst nightmares: An employee’s injured after an attack by a co-worker. If it turns out the attacker had a history of violent behavior, can the company be sued for hiring him?
That question was asked in one recent court case. Here’s what happened:
An employee was sexually assaulted by her newly hired co-worker. The attacker had no criminal record, but during the investigation, it turned out that he’d been fired from his last job after groping a female employee.
The victim sued for “negligent hiring,” claiming the company should have known his history and never offered him a job.
On the other hand, the company argued it had thoroughly investigated his background and found nothing that would indicate he shouldn’t have been hired.
Background checks were clean
Who won the case?
Answer: The company.
The judge ruled in favor of the employer for two reasons:
- The criminal record check found nothing, and
- Reference checks were positive — The attacker’s previous employer failed to warn the company about any possible threat — in fact, his immediate supervisor gave him a glowing reference. And when asked why he left the company, the previous employer just said it was because he had a “dispute with a co-worker.”
Negligent hiring claim fails
HR did its job investigating the new hire’s background. There’s no way the company could’ve predicted the assault.
In negligent hiring cases, companies are only on the hook when they fail to perform a check — or see the warning signs and ignore them.
Cite: Groom v. Fresenius Medical Care North America, Inc.