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Company not liable for a Director's assault on an employee

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Is an employer liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party has ended?

No, held the High Court in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment.

Following a work Christmas Party, Mr Bellman (an employee), Mr Major (a company director and shareholder) and other colleagues went to a Hilton Hotel, where they continued drinking in the early hours of 17th December 2011.

At about 3 am in the morning, Mr Major assaulted Mr Bellman, punching him twice and knocking him to the floor, which resulted in Mr Bellman hitting his head on a marble floor causing serious brain damage.

The decision was taken to sue the company rather than the director, Mr Major personally.

The question arose whether, at the time Mr Major struck the blow, was he “acting in the course or scope of his employment” so as to make the company vicariously liable?

Firstly the assault was committed after and not during an organised work social event. There was an expectation that employees would attend the Christmas party. However, when the organised Christmas party ended, there was no expectation that employees had participate any further.

Secondly, when the individuals arrived at the Hilton Hotel, a significant amount of the conversation was about social topics and not about work.

Thirdly, the Company had paid for alcohol at the organised Christmas party. However what followed later arose in the context of entirely voluntary and personal choices by those present to engage in a heavy early hours drinking session.

The Judge held there was therefore an insufficient connection between the position in which Mr Major was employed and the assault to make it right for the Company to be held liable

The judgment provides useful analysis of the authorities on vicarious liability, and a timely reminder to companies they could be held responsible for improper behaviour at works events, especially where alcohol is flowing freely. Remember that businesses are potentially liable for the actions of its employees.

If you have any queries about your employment matters, please do not hesitate to contact Sally Morris at or on 01905 734032.