As discussed on a recent post on FindLaw's Legally Weird Blog, a woman is suing the Hyatt Hotel corporation for invasion of privacy, negligent hiring, training, supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff, Dayanara Fernandez, returned to her room in a Hyatt in Deerfield, Illinois, to find an employee attired in his Hyatt uniform - from the waist up. From the waist down, he was dressed in her skirt and a pair of her heels and even worse, a pair of her underwear.
Among the tort claims in her suit, which include intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, are claims that the hotel chain negligently hired, trained and supervised the employee involved in the incident. A business owner whose employee commits an illegal action while on the job can find their business liable for the employee's actions, especially if the business did not exercise the proper care in hiring that employee.
The legal theory of negligent hiring is a growing cause of action; roughly half the states in the U.S. now allow this kind of claim. In these jurisdictions, employers have a duty of reasonable care in hiring individuals who, because of employment, may pose a threat of injury to fellow employees or members of the public. Negligent hiring claims have been made against employers for a wide variety of crimes and injuries caused by employees including murder, sexual assault, injury and property loss.
The best way to guard against liability is, of course, the most thorough background check possible. There are legal limits on what can be asked during a check, but a company should get a signed release from the perspective employee to check references, credit reports, criminal records and other legal sources of information.
Negligent training is another issue. If an employer fails to use reasonable care in training and supervising its employees, he or she can be liable to the public for the harmful acts of those employees. One good example of this is a case involving Walmart in Wisconsin, where employees wrongfully, and with no reasonable cause, accused and detained a customer for shoplifting. The company was found to be liable for failing to train and supervise its employees.
Finally, there is also a legal action for negligent retention. If an employer discovers the illegal actions of an employee, prompt action must be taken, otherwise the employer will be liable for any subsequent bad acts of that employee.
Clearly, training in any area and for any job should involve instruction on the legal responsibilities of the job. This should include not only special training for those employees who interact with the public, but instruction on the proper and legal ways to treat other employees, to avoid discrimination or harassment on the job. Spending time training may seem costly, but it is always less expensive than a lawsuit.