Who takes responsibility for professional misconduct: employee or employer?

A cashier makes an error and a customer is incorrectly given a 100 Euro discount. An operator accidentally drains a toxic product into the canal. A market analyst loses a huge sum of money for his employer due to an incorrect market forecast. These are all real situations. But who should take responsibility for this damage?

The employee is not liable for damage.

Strange but true, the basic principle pursuant to article 18 of the Employment Contracts Act, is that the employee is not principally liable for the damage that he causes, in the capacity of his employment contract, to the employer or third parties.

It must be stressed that a contract may not deviate from these strict rules on liability. A clause in an employment contract for a cashier which states that she is liable for all till shortfalls is, therefore, always null and void.

Exception 1: deliberate error or fraud.

There are three fundamental exceptions, whereby the employee is liable for the damage that he causes to the employer or third parties. Firstly, the employee is liable if he causes deliberate or fraudulent damage. A typical case could involve an employee, who has been turned down for a salary increase taking revenge by deliberately breaking a machine/

Exception 2: major error

The employee is also liable for damage that is the result of a major error. This concerns an accidental error that is so excessive that it cannot be excused. For example, an employee who, has been working for many years in the company and who always ignores the safety procedures which are known to all, causes an accident. Note: the concept of ‘major error’ in this context has nothing to do with the concept of urgent reasons for dismissal. It is, therefore, possible that a person causes a major error, for which he must reimburse the company, but that this fact does not constitute grounds for dismissal for urgent cause.

Exception 3: repeated minor errors.

A third situation where the employee could be liable for damage is if he has made minor errors but has made these repeatedly. It need not be the same error that is always repeated. Different minor errors can become habitual and ultimately lead to liability.

For example, a cashier whose till is repeatedly short may ultimately be required to reimburse the losses to the employer.

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