It is a hot summer day and your air conditioner just broke. You call an HVAC service provider, and they send a technician out to your home to fix it.
Do you prefer to be home at the time to supervise the person or do you let them do their own thing and let you know when they’re done?
If they steal something or another criminal act occurs, who would you hold responsible—the individual or the company?
Customers have grown to trust company norms; Assuming, a business would not allow an employee who is deemed unsafe to enter their home. Homeowners are not in the position to vet technicians themselves which suggests the company has the responsibility to protect their customers by extensively assessing them and their backgrounds.
A Dallas, Texas family was confronted by this issue in 2019 when Betty Jo McClain Thomas was robbed and stabbed to death by James Lee Holden, Jr., who was supposed to be doing her service. A technician who was contracted by Spectrum TV (Charter Communications) to help Thomas with a problem with her television. He returned the next day using the company van even though he was off duty. He took advantage of the trust communities have for service technicians utilizing company materials to lure his way back into Thomas’ home and kill the 83-year-old woman.
After being sued by her family, Charter Communications was charged $340 million dollars for their careless involvement in such a tragic situation. The jury decided that the cable company holds substantial liability to ensure the welfare of its customers in the presence of its employees.
Information disclosed during the trial presents ways in which Holden could have been prevented from being in a situation to invade Thomas’ home and commit murder. Charter Communications admitted their failure to verify his past employment and learned that if they did, they would’ve found out that he lied about his preceding work history. He forged paperwork at his previous job, falsified documents, and harassed coworkers at his prior place of employment. He also had up to 4 complaints from customers regarding his behavior. Despite all this readily available information, Charter failed at obtaining it, relaying it, and deciding, therefore, being rendered careless and irresponsible.
While this lawsuit does not suggest that employers are solely responsible for all employee behavior, it does mean that if background screening is not carried out thoroughly the business can be deemed negligent.