Who is liable at work?

Everyone in the workplace has a responsibility to see that company policy is understood and practiced.

“Both employees and employers have the right and the duty to know what the law says”, Alusani health and safety specialist, Phillip Verwey explains.

Very often ignorance or negligence prevents people from upholding the law.“People know that there is a law but they don’t know what the law says.”
However Verwey warns that ignorance will not be accepted as a valid excuse when there is a serious injury. 

Failure to follow the law can lead to what is known as “legal liability”. This happens when an individual or organisation is held liable for its actions or inactions in accordance with a stipulated rule. The perpetrators will then be required to offer compensation or pay damages for their actions.

There are 4 types of legal liability, Verwey provides some insights below:

General liability
This is the liability that is not openly and directly stated but is generally understood within the context of common law. For example company policy may not explicitly state that an employee can not take a pen from the office. But this rule is generally accepted and understood.

Criminal liability
Law suits are filed under criminal liability. In this scenario the state will challenge the accused. In a typical criminal case the burden of proof is on the state and there is a drive towards finding a conviction rather than establishing compensation.

Civil liability
Civil liability takes place when two entities oppose each other, for example 'employee vs employer'. Both entities are entitled to defend their position and often turn to lawyers to present their case. In this scenario the trial is not about guilt and punishment but rather compensation.

Vicarious liability
When a supervisor neglects his duties and is held liable for the failure of his subordinates the case falls under vicarious liability. This usually results in third party damages in which case the injured party will lodge a complaint.

Many managers think the burden of proof or workplace responsibility will ultimately fall on the CEO or director.

This is a major misconception. According to Verwey section 38 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act says that every person is accountable to uphold the law and any person can be held accountable and found to be guilty.

To avoid legal action and gain more insights on individual and organisational liability join the Legal liability course hosted by Alusani Skills & Training Network.

For more insights join the Legal Liability course hosted by Alusani Skills & Training Network®. Please visit the website www.alusani.co.za, contact Faith on 0114477470 or email faith@alusani.co.za.

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