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Thief on duty

May 2009 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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Employees may be liable to pay damages to their employers if they steal from the client whose premises they are guarding

If an employee commits gross misconduct by stealing from a customer, the employer will be entitled to damages from the employee. This was established in a recent judgment of the Danish Eastern High Court.

The case was about a security guard company. The company had a contract with the Copenhagen University Hospital where the presence of security guards was intended to minimise the risk of theft and shrinkage. Instead, two guards committed the crime they had been hired to prevent: they stole a feeding bottle, a children's book and a knife.

The theft caused the hospital terminate the contract with the security company. The security company turned to the two guards to recover its loss and ended up in court.

The Court found that the two guards were in fundamental breach of their employment contract. As the hospital had terminated the security services contract because of their theft, the guards were liable in damages to their employer for the loss suffered as a result. The guards were therefore ordered to pay a discretionary sum of DKK 30 000 in damages each.

In Norrbom Vinding's view: 

  • the case illustrates that employers may be awarded damages from a former employee for ascertainable losses arising directly out of the employee's gross misconduct

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