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Don’t let the Christmas spirit land your company in hot water

12/11/2018

It’s office party season again with staff letting their hair down to enjoy the traditional seasonal work’s bash. But when the party’s over does an employer’s responsibility to its staff also come to an end?

Not necessarily, says Julia Fitzsimmons, Partner with the employment team at FBC Manby Bowdler.

A recent ruling by the Court of Appeal has thrown new light on the responsibilities an employer owes to its staff both at – and after – an office party.

The ruling, in the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, means that an employer can now potentially be vicariously liable for injury caused after the party has ended and staff have gone on to an impromptu gathering.

The court heard that Northampton Recruitment managing director Mr Major assaulted sales manager Mr Bellman after arranging for staff to continue drinking at the company’s expense at a hotel after their Christmas party at another venue had come to an end.

The assault occurred after Mr Major gave staff a lecture on his authority but was questioned over his decisions by Mr Bellman.

Mr Bellman suffered brain damage as a result of the assault and sued Northampton Recruitment, arguing that the company was vicariously liable for the actions of its managing director.

The Appeal Court said it had to consider the nature of Mr Major’s role – he was the company’s most senior employee and its ‘controlling mind’ –  and whether there was a sufficient connection between his job and the assault.

It ruled that the fact that the assault happened at a follow-on event, with the company paying for transport and drinks, was central to the decision to hold the company liable

Lady Justice Aplin commented: “It seems to me that given the whole context, and despite the time and place at which the assault occurred, Mr Major’s position of seniority persisted and was a significant factor. He 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.

The message to employers is that even a totally unofficial afterparty might still expose you to risk, if a central factor in any claim is the manner in which one employee imposes their managerial authority over another.

If you would like more information about any of these issues or any advice on employment law or HR issues, please contact Julia on J.Fitzsimmons@fbcmb.co.uk

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