On 11th October 2018, the Court of Appeal handed down its judgement that a company should be held vicariously liable for the actions of its Managing Director following an assault during post-Christmas party drinks held at a hotel in 2011.

Mr Bellman was an employee of the Defendant and his attacker, Mr John Major, was a director and shareholder of the Defendant company (Northampton Recruitment Ltd). Following heavy drinking, and in the early hours of the morning, Mr Bellman ended up having a heated argument about the placement of another employee within the organisation. This culminated in Mr Major punching Mr Bellman, causing him to fall and hit his head on the marble floor in the hotel reception and as a result, Mr Bellman suffered severe brain damage rendering him unable to manage his own affairs.

The parties had followed their work Christmas party with further drinks at a hotel which had not been pre-planned, but the Defendant company had paid for the taxis for those who wished to continue to the hotel, as well as the majority of the alcoholic drinks.

At around 2am, the conversation amongst the remaining employees turned to work, including the Defendant company’s plans for the following year. In fact, after 2am the conversation was solely focussed on the Defendant’s business.

Mr Major then proceeded to lecture his colleagues at length, which Mr Major challenged but was physically assaulted as a result.

Lady Justice Asplin considered the following questions in deciding whether Northampton Recruitment Ltd should be held liable for the actions of Mr Major:

  1. What functions or “field of activities” were entrusted by the employer to the employee, i.e. what was essentially the nature of their job?
  2. Whether there was sufficient connection between the position, in which the employee was employed, and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable under the principle of social justice.

The court allowed the appeal. There was sufficient connection between Mr Major’s field of activities and the assault to render it just that the Defendant company should be held vicariously liable for his actions. The court noted that Mr Major was in a dominant position and had a supervisory role which enabled him to assert his authority over the staff who were present and to re-assert that authority when he thought it necessary.

With the festive season fast approaching, this judgement serves as a timely reminder that Employers should ensure that employees understand that unprofessional behaviour at work related events, such as using violence and excessive drinking, is as unacceptable as improper behaviour in the workplace itself.

For more information, please contact our Employment Law department.

Luke Jenkins