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Joseph, Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Extensive experience representing employees and management
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If an employee driving a company truck ignores the lights ,

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If an employee driving a company truck ignores the lights , buzzers and gauges telling him there is a problem and should stop driving, and the end result is blowing a 15,000 dollar motor, one, can he be fired for negligence, and two, can he be made responsible for the damage?
Hello and welcome to JustAnswer.

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Assuming the employee is at-will (as most California employees are), he can be terminated at any time for any reason with or without any prior notice, including negligence for failing to stop driving and blowing a $15,000 motor.

This stems from the employment at-will doctrine, which is codified in California Labor Code Section 2922 and states:

"An employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at
the will of either party on notice to the other. Employment for a
specified term means an employment for a period greater than one

(The employee would also be denied unemployment benefits for being terminated for gross negligence and misconduct).

In order for an employee to be held responsible for damage to an employee vehicle (such as a company truck) he needs to have caused the damage due to 'gross' negligence.

Gross negligence is defined as lacking even a slight amount of care (whereas regular negligence is just not acting with the same duty of care that a reasonable person would act with). Since even a regularly negligent person would have payed heed to lights, buzzers, and gauges informing him or her that is a problem and he or she should stop driving, a suit for 'gross' negligence against the employee would likely be successful.

An employer would have to prove that the employee's failure to pay attention to any of these warnings can be directly linked to the motor being blown. This could be demonstrated if the truck had good service records up to the point that the employee operated it and/or through the employee's own admissions.

To note, under California law, an employer cannot deduct for damages to company property from the wages due to the employee. Instead, the employer must pay the wages that are due and file a separate suit against the employee to obtain the damages for the employee's gross negligence.

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Hello Tom,

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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

After firing said employee for gross negligence, would there be a time frame in which to file a suit against him for recovery of the expense of the repair and possibly other losses the company suffers due to the lack of equipment, and would there be issues with un-employment that could arise?

Hello Tom,

Yes, the statue of limitations is two years, so suit would need to be filed within 2 years after the damages to the vehicle occurred. Consequential damages can also be claimed as a result of the loss of the vehicle.

As long as you an demonstrate that the employee was terminated for misconduct (negligence) rather than through no fault of his or her own, then there would not be any issues with denying the employee unemployment benefits, since he or she would have been terminated for gross negligence directly connected with his or her work.
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