If the Employee has caused the Employer loss through an act committed in the course of their Employment, then they are potentially liable in damages for breach of contract or negligence (tort) for any loss caused to the Employer or an affected third party, such as the owner of the land or property where the act was committed and who has also sustained loss through the Employee’s actions i.e., damage to property. However, it may be a defence to an allegation of gross misconduct or incapability that provides a potentially fair reason for the Employer to dismiss the Employee if the Employee can show that they were acting reasonably and under the Employer’s express instructions.
The outcome of the case (as with all Employment Tribunal and Civil Court disputes) will turn on its own facts and the Judge will decide the outcome. The Employee will say that they were acting legally and on their Employer’s instructions, that they interpreted those instructions reasonably and indeed reverted to the Employer for further clarification and encouraged the Employer to have “second thoughts”. On the other hand, the Employer will argue that the Employee’s actions were so negligent and reckless that the particular Employer (and indeed any employer in their right mind) would never have issued such an instruction and therefore the Employee either misunderstood the instruction or “went off on a frolic of their own” and committed the act of their own accord without the knowledge or consent of the Employer.
Furthermore, it is not a defence for an Employee to argue that they were “only following orders” in acting on their Employer’s instructions. The Tribunal or the Court will examine the substance of the act itself and “look behind” the Employer’s instructions in determining whether the Employee acted in Breach of their Contract of Employment and other obligations towards the Employer, as well as any third party, such as the owner of the damaged property.
It is quite possible from a legal point of view for an Employer to sue an Employee for losses caused by the Employee during their employment if the Employee acted negligently and/or in breach of their Contract of Employment. However, such action is relatively rare as the Employer will have insurance in place to cover these types of losses and there is no need to pursue the Employee directly.
You must deny the claim on the basis that you are not liable for the charges
If the employer claims the monies as a debt, you must deny the debt and state the monies claimed are a disputed damages claim. The employer will have to issue contested Part 7 Court Proceedings for damages for debt and/or breach of contract plus interest and legal costs as opposed to following the undisputed debt recovery route of serving you with a Statutory Demand for repayment in the debt in full within 21 days prior to filing a court petition for your Bankruptcy.
Thereafter, you are in a bit of a tricky spot. If you refuse to pay up, the employer may pursue you for damages through the Civil County Courts. However, the onus will be on the Claimant to enforce their legal rights against you. Whether or not they take any action is up to them. I cannot advise you directly upon whether the Claimant will in fact take any recovery action against you as I do not know what is in their minds.
In addition, the amount claimed of £850 is comfortably within the Small Claims Track threshold of £10,000 damages. Even if the Claimant issues Court Proceedings against you for this amount, plus interest, and wins at a fully contested Trial, they are unlikely to be awarded their legal adviser’s costs of the Claim. Legal advisers’ costs are generally not recoverable in the Small Claims Court: only Court fees for issuing the Claim and for the Final Hearing.
Nevertheless, the Claimant may be well-versed in such low-value recovery action against defaulting customers or may be able to instruct legal advisers for a low fixed fee to litigate the entire Court Proceedings on its behalf making it economic to claim against you.
I suggest negotiating an economic of the dispute on mutually agreeable terms with the Claimant to avoid the time and expense of defending court proceedings.