Special Reports

Employer not responsible for workers' off-duty acts

The sheer magnitude of the $75 million claim against the City of Tacoma in the Brame matter warrants a few observations.

The case is based on the theory that an employer is responsible for the off-duty, weekend private actions of its employees - even criminal actions. Or put a different way, the claim is based on the theory that an employer has a duty to guarantee a blissful romantic life for each of its employees. This, even though the employer cannot and dare not ask about such matters during the hiring process. If these theories were correct, there would be no jobs in our society because the risk of hiring would be too high.

Suppose the chief chef in a small catering company was under severely stringent requirements not to misuse company equipment. One not-so-fine Saturday afternoon, the chef took his company-issued lettuce knife and fatally stabbed his wife. Would anyone think the catering company was responsible for that act?