A Work Christmas Party Gone Wrong – Vicarious Liability

Posted on Dec 15, 2016

It wouldn’t really be Christmas without our usual warning of Christmas party high jinks, would it? I promise no bah humbug here, just doing our job….

So, it might be the season of goodwill and yet at one Christmas party, there was a little bit more damage left than just a few hangovers.

The case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment involved an assault of a manager by a director after a Christmas party. After the party the two, alongside other guests, went on to hotel and continued drinking until the assault occurred in the early hours of the morning. The assault caused serious brain injury to the manager and the decision was taken to sue the company, rather than the director personally.

The question that arose, was whether, at the time the director struck the blow, he was ‘acting in the course or scope of his employment”, making the company vicariously liable? The judge held that, had the blow been struck at the Christmas party, the company would be liable. But as the assault occurred after the party and during a private drinking session, it was found that the company was not vicariously liable.

Nobody wants to be labelled a ‘scrooge’ at Christmas, but equally nobody wants to begin the new year facing an employment claim. The judgment serves a reminder to companies that they may be responsible for improper behaviour at work events, and so it may be wise to limit the alcohol!

Merry Christmas everyone!