09 December 2016 #Employment
In the recent case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the High Court held that a company was not vicariously liable for an assault by its director on an employee which took place after the employer’s Christmas party had ended when the two individuals, along with other employees, went back to a hotel to continue drinking.
The employment tribunal found that the director was not acting ‘in the course of his employment’ (a necessary requirement for vicarious liability). The assault was committed during a “spontaneous gathering” rather than “a seamless extension of the Christmas Party.” The fact that some of the conversation related to work did not provide enough of a connection to hold the company liable.
Employers should be aware that they can be held responsible for acts of their employees at work events. Whilst this case indicates that there is a line to be drawn here, earlier cases such as Livesey v Parker Merchanting, demonstrate that the line is not always clear. In Livesey, an employee who was harassed on the way home from a Christmas Party was able to claim against the employer as the conduct was viewed as a continuation of harassment that had occurred earlier at the Christmas Party.
In light of the risks here, and with the festive period in full swing, employers should ensure that the standards they expect from their employees at such events are clearly communicated in advance.