Employers must be vigilant to protect themselves from the criminal acts of their employees behind the wheel, warns Sean Joyce, a criminal lawyer specialising in road traffic and transport law at Stephensons Solicitors LLP.
He said: “I recently represented a sole trader who employed eight staff. He had a small fleet of vehicles and, sensibly, he warned staff that it was their responsibility to adhere to road traffic laws and ensure compliance with the terms of their driving licences. He did this by inserting terms in his staff handbook, issuing memos to all employees and placing warning notices on the wall of the staff room. He even incorporated similar terms into his contracts of employment with the additional incentive of disciplinary action against those who ignored his instructions.
“However, it is very difficult, even in a small business, to control the actions of all of your staff.”
The owner of the business went on holiday for a week. Despite all of the warnings, while he was away an employee took one of the firm’s vans onto the road towing a trailer, which created a total authorised combined weight that was more than the 8,250 kg he was allowed to drive on his ordinary car licence.
He was stopped by a hawkeyed traffic police officer and taken to a local weighbridge where the combination was weighed and the employee put through an uncomfortable interview under caution. Later that day the firm’s contracts manager was also questioned and by the time the employer returned from holiday, the damage had been done. The two members of staff did not take legal advice before answering questions and with hindsight, that was a mistake.
Sean added: “While you might say the member of staff responsible only had himself to blame for the fact he was facing an endorseable (and therefore disqualifiable) offence, the real sting in the tail was that as a result of the answers provided by the driver and contracts manager, the police were able to prosecute the employer personally for allowing his employee to use the vehicle illegally.
“To many, this might seem unfair given all he’d done to try and prevent exactly this sort of thing happening. It might have been different had the two employees taken legal advice before answering questions. This can be impractical at the road side but it was, nevertheless, an entitlement they had.”
It is very difficult to limit criminal responsibility and employers are vicariously liable for the criminal actions of their staff while in their employment. Any employer with vehicles should ensure that they, and all their staff, have access to legal advice from lawyers specialising in road traffic law.
Stephensons’ ‘Carry on Driving’ is a 24-hour helpline operated by specialist road traffic lawyers. Advice at the very outset can save employers and their staff lots of headaches later down the line. Membership of the scheme has lots of other benefits as well, such as representation at the police station for free, and representation in court by solicitors and barrister, to help avoid or reduce points and the chances of a ban.