Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust: CA 16 Mar 2005

The claimant had sought damages against his employer, saying that they had failed in their duty to him under the 1997 Act in failing to prevent harassment by a manager. He appealed a strike out of his claim.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The issue is whether an employer may be vicariously liable under section 3 of the the 1997 Act for harassment in breach of section 1 of the Act committed by one of its employees in the course of his or her employment. It might. Section 3 created a new right for damages including for anxiety falling short of injury to health.
Vicarious liability is legal responsibility imposed on an employer, although he is himself free from blame for a tort committed by his employee in the course of his employment. It has two forms: ‘first liability for an authorised or negligently permitted unlawful act of an employee in the course of employment; and second, liability for an employee’s unauthorised or not negligently permitted unlawful mode of doing an authorised act in the course of employment. ‘ The second mode is qualified by the requirement that the wrongful act must be so closely connected with as to be regarded as a mode however improper of doing it. The courts are freed from the tight, but not always readily applicable, traditional test of ‘in the course of employment’, and applies a ‘test of fairness and justice, turning, in the circumstances of each case, on the sufficiency of the connection between the breach of duty and the employment and/or whether the risk of such breach was one reasonably incidental to it.’ and ‘it is now clear that, in general, an employer may be vicariously liable for a breach of statutory duty imposed, on his employee, though not on him, if it meets the new broader test.’
‘an employed person may have a valid cause of action at common law for victimisation and/or harassment against his employer, as may a third party who is not a fellow employee: 1) by establishing primary liability under the contract of employment and/or under common law principles of negligence for the employer’s failure to protect him against victimisation and/or harassment causing him physical or psychiatric injury. ‘
While stalking may have been the prime mischief at which the 1997 Act was aimed, it was not the only one. The conduct was described in section 7 by reference to its consequences, not by reference to its nature.
‘The thrust of the Act is plain, namely to protect individuals from a course of conduct amounting to harassment, regardless of who causes it. It is not, as Mr Platt suggested, an apt example of ‘What is sauce for the legislative goose should be sauce for interpretative gander’. Why? What possible dictate of policy or logic should protect an employer, whether corporate or not, from primary or secondary liability for the mischief of harassment of individuals at which the 1997 Act is directed?’ An employer may be vicariously liable in civil proceedings for his employee’s unauthorised criminal conduct, even though it could not be vicariously guilty of it in criminal proceedings.
‘ the existence of vicarious liability for any common law or statutory wrong depends on whether, on the facts of the case, it is, by reference to the criteria of ‘close connection’ and/or ‘reasonably incidental risk’, ‘just and reasonable’ to hold the employer vicariously liable. And, for this purpose, the facts of the case have to be looked at in the context of the statute creating the civil offence. Therein lies the court’s control over any attempt at inappropriate extension of the Act to circumstances and fields of activity in which the imposition of vicarious liability would not be ‘just and reasonable’, not the imposition by the courts of a blanket exclusion of vicarious liability in respect of breaches of it regardless of their factual context ‘
May LJ set out the meaning of ‘harassment’: ‘The Act does not attempt to define the type of conduct that is capable of constituting harassment. ‘Harassment’ is, however, a word which has a meaning which is generally understood. It describes conduct targeted at an individual which is calculated to produce the consequences described in s.7 and which is oppressive and unreasonable . . Thus, in my view, although s.7 subsection 2 provides that harassing a person includes causing the person distress, the fact that a person suffers distress is not by itself enough to show that the cause of the distress was harassment. The conduct has also to be calculated, in an objective sense, to cause distress and has to be oppressive and unreasonable. It has to be conduct which the perpetrator knows or ought to know amounts to harassment, and conduct which a reasonable person would think amounted to harassment. What amounts to harassment is, as Lord Phillips said, generally understood.’
Lord Justice Scott Baker (dissenting) :’what is forbidden is a course of conduct rather than a single act. Also, intention is not relevant; the test whether a particular course of conduct amounts to harassment is objective. There are limited exceptions for conduct that could otherwise be described as harassment. The focus of the Act is on the effect of the harassment on the victim. The reaction of the victim is obviously important and this is something that is likely to be peculiarly within the knowledge of the harasser at whose continuing conduct the Act is aimed. ‘ and
‘The 1997 Act is concerned with the effect of harassment on the mind of the victim. Any anxiety caused by the harassment qualifies for an award of damages. This is in sharp distinction to stress at work claims where the threshold for an award is identifiable psychiatric injury, which has to be foreseeable injury following from a breach of duty on the part of the employer. Statutory claims for harassment and common law claims for stress at work will often overlap, but a statutory claim will be much easier for a claimant to establish. ‘
‘the 1997 Act creates a statutory liability that does not overlap with common law negligence as for example the Occupiers Liability Act 1957. Nor is it directed to an employment situation as for example the health and safety legislation. It is aimed at unconscionable behaviour essentially by one individual to another. I regard the statutory duty as personal in nature and not one in which, in the event that the prohibited conduct happens to occur in the workplace, the employer is to be treated as standing in the shoes of an employee perpetrator. ‘


Auld, May, Scott-Baker LJ


Times 21-Mar-2005, [2005] EWCA Civ 251, [2005] QB 848, [2005] ICR 977, [2005] 2 WLR 1503, [2005] IRLR 340




Protection from Harassment Act 1997 1 3


England and Wales


CitedImperial Chemical Industries Ltd v Shatwell HL 6-Jul-1964
The respondent was employed as a shot firer in a quarry, and was to test the electric wiring connecting explosive charges. Contrary to instructions that testing must be done from a shelter, the respondent and another shot firer carried out a test in . .
CitedThomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Simon Hughes CA 18-Jul-2001
A civilian police worker had reported officers for racist remarks. The newspaper repeatedly printed articles and encouraged correspondence which was racially motivated, to the acute distress of the complainant.
Held: Repeated newspaper stories . .
CitedSharma v Wells and Medico-Legal Investigations Ltd QBD 2003
The court struck out a claim for damages against an employer for harassment under the 1997 Act. . .
CitedPercy v Corporation of Glasgow HL 1922
A pursuer’s averment, in what appeared to be a claim at common law arising out an alleged breach by employees of a Scottish corporation’s bye-laws and regulations, should be allowed to proceed to trial. . .
CitedHarrison v National Coal Board HL 1951
The plaintiff sought damages from his employer after suffering injury when a co-worker fired a shot in the colliery, acting in breach of the regulations.
Held: There was no vicarious liability duty in law on the managers to ensure compliance . .
CitedNicol v National Coal Board SCS 1952
The court considered a claim against his employer after the plaintiff suffered injury after a breach of safety regulations by a co-worker.
Held: Referring to Harrison v NCB: ‘It appears to me that that principle disposes of the argument . .
CitedMatuszczyk v National Coal Board 1953
The pursuer sought damages at common law after being injured by a shot-firing by a co-worker. The pursuer based his case on duties said to be owed to him by the shot-firer at common law. The defenders’ argument was that these duties had been . .
CitedDubai Aluminium Company Limited v Salaam and Others HL 5-Dec-2002
Partners Liable for Dishonest Act of Solicitor
A solicitor had been alleged to have acted dishonestly, having assisted in a fraudulent breach of trust by drafting certain documents. Contributions to the damages were sought from his partners.
Held: The acts complained of were so close to . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v Dziurzynski QBD 28-Jun-2002
The defendant was an animal rights protester who had been accused under the Act of harassing the company and its employees.
Held: The act was intended to be used to protect individuals, and not companies. Two incidents were alleged, but no . .
CitedImperial Chemical Industries Ltd v Shatwell HL 6-Jul-1964
The respondent was employed as a shot firer in a quarry, and was to test the electric wiring connecting explosive charges. Contrary to instructions that testing must be done from a shelter, the respondent and another shot firer carried out a test in . .
CitedLister and Others v Hesley Hall Ltd HL 3-May-2001
A school board employed staff to manage a residential school for vulnerable children. The staff committed sexual abuse of the children. The school denied vicarious liability for the acts of the teachers.
Held: ‘Vicarious liability is legal . .
CitedNational Coal Board v England HL 1954
The plaintiff sought damages after being injured when a co-worker fired a shot. The employee however had himself coupled the detonator to the cable rather than leaving it to the shotfirer, and had his cimmitted a criminal offence. He had been found . .
Not FollowedDarling Island Stevedoring and Lighterage Co v Long 1957
(High Court of Australia) An employer was not responsible vicariously for a breach of a duty at common law between one emplyee and another. There could be no vicarious liability on an employer under regulations providing precautions to be observed . .
CitedCanadian Pacific Railway Co v Lockhart PC 1941
When considering the imposition of vicarious liability, ‘the first consideration is the ascertainment of what the servant is employed to do.’ (Lord Thankerton) and ‘It is clear that the master is responsible for acts actually authorised by him: for . .
CitedRacz v Home Office HL 17-Dec-1993
The Home Office can be liable for the actions of prison officers which amounted to an official misfeasance. The principles of vicarious liability apply as much to misfeasance in public office as to other torts involving malice, knowledge or . .
CitedJacobi v Griffiths 17-Jun-1999
(Canadian Supreme Court) The process for determining when a non-authorised act by an employee is so connected to the employer’s enterprise that liability should be imposed involved two steps: 1. Firstly a court should determine whether there are . .
CitedBazley v Curry 17-Jun-1999
(Canadian Supreme Court) The court considerd the doctrine of vicarious liability: ‘The policy purposes underlying the imposition of vicarious liability on employers are served only where the wrong is so connected with the employment that it can be . .
CitedMattis v Pollock (T/A Flamingo’s Nightclub) QBD 24-Oct-2002
The claimant sought damages after being assaulted by a doorman employed by the defendant.
Held: The responsibility of the nightclub owner for the actions of his aggressive doorman was not extinguished by the separation in time and place from . .
CitedBernard v The Attorney General of Jamaica PC 7-Oct-2004
PC (Jamaica) The claimant had been queuing for some time to make an overseas phone call at the Post Office. Eventually his turn came, he picked up the phone and dialled. Suddenly a man intervened, announced . .
CitedWaters v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis HL 27-Jul-2000
A policewoman, having made a complaint of serious sexual assault against a fellow officer complained again that the Commissioner had failed to protect her against retaliatory assaults. Her claim was struck out, but restored on appeal.
Held: . .
CitedDaiichi UK Ltd and others v Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and Others; Asahi Glass UK ltd and others v Same; Eisaai Ltd v Same; Yam,anouchi Pharma UK Ltd and others v Same; Sankyo Pharma UK Ltd and others v Same QBD 13-Oct-2003
The claimants sought injunctions and orders under the act against the respondent in respect of acts of harrassment intended variously to dissuade the companies form engaging in activities disapproved by the respondents.
Held: The Act was not . .
CitedDyer v Munday; Morris v Martin CA 1895
The defendant, a hire purchase furniture dealer, sent his manager to recover back some furniture hired to X and upon which several instalments were unpaid. X had pledged the furniture to his landlord as security for his rent, and the landlord’s wife . .
CitedWong v Parkside Health NHS Trust and Another CA 16-Nov-2001
The claimant had sued her former employer for post-traumatic stress resulting from alleged harassment at her place of work. The claimant appealed against an order refusing damages. The court had held that outside the 1997 Act which was not in force . .
CitedMeridian Global Funds Management Asia Ltd v Securities Commission PC 26-Jun-1995
(New Zealand) The New Zealand statute required a holder of specified investments to give notice of its holding to a regulator as soon as it became aware of its holding. Unbeknown to any others in the company apart from one colleague, its chief . .
CitedLister v Romford Ice and Cold Storage Co Ltd HL 1957
An employer may be civilly responsible for his employee’s breach even though it constitutes a crime, and a skilled employee in general owed a contractual duty of reasonable care to his employer in the performance of his employment. In determining . .
CitedTesco Supermarkets Ltd v Nattrass HL 31-Mar-1971
Identification of Company’s Directing Mind
In a prosecution under the 1968 Act, the court discussed how to identify the directing mind and will of a company, and whether employees remained liable when proper instructions had been given to those in charge of a local store.
Held: ‘In the . .
CitedVeness v Dyson Bell and Co 25-May-1965
The claimant sought damages against her employer saying they had failed to meet their duty of care to prevent bullying.
Held: The court refused to strike out the claim that ‘[the plaintiff] was so bullied and belittled by her colleagues that . .
CitedRose v Plenty CA 7-Jul-1975
Contrary to his employers orders, a milkman allowed children to assist him in his milkround. One was injured, and sued the milkman’s employer.
Held: The milkman had not gone so far outside the activities for which he was employed for the . .
CitedHartman v South Essex Mental Health and Community Care NHS Trust etc CA 19-Jan-2005
The court considered the liability of employers for stress injury to several employees.
Held: Though the principles of awarding damages for stress related psychiatric injury are the same as those for physical injury, the issues have still . .
CitedIlkiw v Samuels CA 1963
The plaintiff was injured by the careless manouvering of a lorry by the defendant’s employee.
Held: When considering the vicarious liability of an employer, the proper approach to the nature of the servant’s employment is a broad one. . .
CitedTower Boot Company Limited v Jones CA 11-Dec-1996
An employer’s liability for racial abuse by its employees is wider than its liability under the rules of vicarious liability. The statute created new obligations. Sex and race discrimination legislation seeks to eradicate the ‘very great evil’ of . .
CitedPetch v Customs and Excise Commissioners CA 29-Mar-1993
A former employer has no duty of care regarding the accuracy of information provided to the trustees of a pension fund regarding the work record of that employee. . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromMajrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust HL 12-Jul-2006
Employer can be liable for Managers Harassment
The claimant employee sought damages, saying that he had been bullied by his manager and that bullying amounting to harassment under the 1997 Act. The employer now appealed a finding that it was responsible for a tort committed by a manager, saying . .
CitedHelen Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd QBD 1-Aug-2006
The claimant sought damages from her former employers, asserting that workplace bullying and harassment had caused injury to her health. She had had a long term history of depression after being abused as a child, and the evidence was conflicting, . .
CitedRayment v Ministry of Defence QBD 18-Feb-2010
The claimant sought damages alleging harassment by officers employed by the defendant. An internal investigation had revealed considerable poor behaviour by the senior officers, and that was followed by hostile behaviour. The defendant had put up . .
CitedWoodland v The Swimming Teachers’ Association and Others QBD 17-Oct-2011
The court was asked as to the vicarious or other liability of a school where a pupil suffered injury at a swimming lesson with a non-employee during school time, and in particular whether it had a non-delegable duty to ensure the welfare of children . .
CitedWoodland v Essex County Council CA 9-Mar-2012
The claimant had been injured in a swimming pool during a lesson. The lesson was conducted by outside independent contractors. The claimant appealed against a finding that his argument that they had a non-delegable duty of care was bound to fail. . .
CitedGerrard and Another v Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd and Another QBD 27-Nov-2020
The claimants, a solicitor and his wife, sought damages in harassment and data protection, against a party to proceedings in which he was acting professionally, and against the investigative firm instructed by them. The defendants now requested the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Torts – Other, Vicarious Liability, Employment

Updated: 29 May 2022; Ref: scu.223580