Defenses That Do and Do Not Work in Negligent Hiring Cases

If an employer is sued for negligent hiring on the basis that they hired someone that they either knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have know was dangerous, unqualified, unfit or dishonest, and it was reasonably foreseeable that some of harm could occur, an employer can be sued for negligent hiring.  That is the opposite of due diligence.  If the subject of a legal action, employers do have some potential defenses in a court case, but they are far from a sure thing.

The best defense is that the employer did in fact exercise due diligence and reasonable care, but despite those best efforts, a bad hire fell through the cracks. An employer would have to show that they took a number of steps designed to avoid bad hires. An employer can review the adequacy of their hiring efforts by taking the safe hiring audit offered by ESR. See: http://www.backgroundchecktraining.com/Safe-Hiring-Audit.asp

Another defense that had been successful is that the crime or injury was too remote or unconnected from the employer’s negligence, or was not foreseeable. An example is the California case ESR recently reviewed where a plumber with a criminal record was hired, meet a woman on the job that he started dating, was terminated by the employer and then murdered the girlfriend two years later. The victim’s family’s argued that but for the negligent hiring, the two would not have met in the first place and the murder would not have occurred. The court found that the murder two years later and long after termination was not sufficiently connected to the hiring to hold employer legally responsible. See: http://www.esrcheck.com/newsletter/archives/September_2009.php#T1

Another defense that a background checks would have not have revealed anything anyway so that the employer’s failure to conduct an adequate pre-screening was not the cause of the injury.  As the old adage goes, “every dog has its first bite.”  If there was nothing for a background check to locate that was a potential a “Red Flag,” that is also a defense.

Some defenses that do not work? Employers have not been very successful in defending lawsuits on the basis that due diligence and background checks cost too much, especially considering how inexpensive it is to screen. Another argument that may not go far with a jury is that the employer did what every other employer did in their industry. The fact that all employers in an industry engage in the same practice does not mean that the employer has meet the legal duty of due diligence, since a “standard practice” is not the same as a “standard of care.” The least successful defense is the argument that the employer is also the victim as well, or that they were victimized by an applicant lying.

The bottom-line: Exercising due diligence in hiring and conducting background checks is a small price to pay to avoid the “Parade of Horribles” that can befall an employer that makes bad hiring decisions.