Written by attorney W. Thomas Smith

Sexual Assault and Abuse – Is the employer legally liable for an employee-perpetrator’s crimes?

The general rule in Massachusetts law is that an employer is not liable for the intentional acts (in this case the crime of sexual assault or rape) carried out by its employees. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this general rule which can be called upon in sexual assault cases. When the perpetrator's employee is a common carrier, such as a school bus operator, transit company, airline, etc. and the sexual assault is upon a passenger in the course of a trip, the employer/common carrier is liable for the criminal sexual assault by its employee (or co-passenger also). Similarly, if the victim is a guest in a hotel, motel, inn, or other public lodging, the operator of the public lodging will be liable for the assault by either one of its employees or the victim's fellow guests if the assault occurred at the place of lodging while the victim was a guest. Other than these situations in which there is a special relationship between the victim and the perpetrator's employer, the more usual rule would apply that the employer is not civilly liable for the criminal acts of its employee unless the act was 'within the course of employment, and in furtherance of the employer's work' It would be a rare situation in which a rape or sexual assault by an employee furthered the employer's interests. However, this does not let the employer off the hook in a civil case. The victim can claim the perpetrator's employer was negligent and, by proving this, hold the employer liable for the harm caused by the sexual assault.

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