Q: I have several pool cars which staff use when making company visits. What are the implications for employers under the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Act, if for example an employee caused a fatal accident whilst driving a company vehicle?
A: In this situation ‘company vehicles' would not only include vehicles provided by or to the company, but possibly an employee's own vehicle if it is being used for work purposes. If the employee is convicted of a motoring offence when driving a car on company business, the company may also be held responsible.
The employer is responsible for ensuring vehicles used for company business are roadworthy, adequately insured for business use and that the employee has a valid driving licence. An administrative paper trail is required to prove such checks have been carried out, plus evidence of appropriate policies. Simply having the policies drawn up is insufficient; the employer must also take reasonable steps to ensure they are followed.
If an employee caused a fatal accident whilst driving on company business the employer could be found guilty if the company was proven in some way responsible, e.g. if the employee had been driving long hours at the employer's request or if the employer failed to monitor the number of driving hours.
To reduce the likelihood of being implicated in a criminal offence, employers should put appropriate policies and steps in place to minimise the risks associated with activities where a duty of care is owed. That is less onerous than it sounds. If a company is convicted, it can be liable to pay a substantial fine. The court may also make remedial orders requiring the company to correct a failing, and publicity orders requiring the company to publicise details of its conviction. The Health & Safety Executive can bring further charges for the same offence.