15th December 2016

The Christmas Party and Vicarious Liability

This update highlights a recent case which considers whether a company was liable for an employee’s attack on a fellow employee at a Christmas party. It is the case of Bellman v. Northampton Recruitment Ltd and it involves looking at the principle of vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability is where one person or entity is held liable for the wrong-doings committed by another person. Employers are usually held vicariously liable for the wrong-doings of an employee where it is committed “in the course of employment”. In previous cases at petrol stations, for example, employers have been held liable for assaults by their employees on customers.

champagne-glassesIn this recent case, the company’s Christmas party took place at a golf club and the employer was paying the taxi fares for party guests back to their hotels. After the party, half of the guests went on for an “impromptu drink” at a hotel. It was expected that the company would pay for some of the drinks.

In the early hours of the morning an issue arose about a work matter and it led to a disagreement between Mr Bellman and Mr Major, the Managing Director of the company. Mr Major punched Mr Bellman twice and Mr Bellman fell to the floor fracturing his skull. He suffered severe brain damage.

Mr Bellman brought a claim for damages against the company claiming they were vicariously liable for Mr Major’s conduct.  He did not bring a claim against Mr Major.

The High Court held that the company was not vicariously liable for the assault by Mr Major.

It was found that the drink after the Christmas party was not itself part of the organised work party and that the discussion about work did not necessarily mean it was “in the course of employment”.

Perhaps it is not surprising that there are often HR issues arising after a company party where alcohol is paid for. Although many events can be successful, providing too much free alcohol to employees can lead to undesirable outcomes such as physical altercations and arguments, which can then filter over into social media the next day.

Employers need to strike a balance between rewarding employees for hard work and allowing them to celebrate the festive period, and acknowledging their responsibility as an employer if they are organising a party.

If you require any employment law or HR advice on this subject or any other topic, please contact us on 01730 268211, or .

N.B. Please note that the above information is a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend seeking specialist legal advice on your own particular circumstances.