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Employment Law case Update: Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd

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In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the High Court held that a company is not vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party has ended.

Mr Bellman was employed by Northampton Recruitment Ltd and was recruited by Mr Major, the Director of Northampton Recruitment, in 2010. The two were friends.

The company, through Mr Major, organised a Christmas party for staff and their guests in 2011. It passed without incident. Some guests took taxis to a local hotel where they had booked rooms and they continued drinking in the hotel lobby. Around 3am talk turned to company politics. Mr Major felt that his decision-making had been challenged by Mr Bellman and others. As a result he punched Mr Bellman twice, who was knocked to the floor and hit his head. Mr Bellman suffered a “very severe traumatic brain injury” and as a result was unlikely to return to paid employment.

Mr Bellman brought a claim against the company and claimed that the company were vicariously liable for Mr Major’s actions and claimed damages. Companies are liable for reckless acts committed by their employees where it can be shown that the acts are closely linked to their employment.  

The High Court dismissed the claim and found that the company was not liable. The High Court ruled that it was not reasonable that Mr Major should be deemed to always be ‘on duty’ and therefore always acting on behalf of the company. It was important in this case that the assault occurred after the Christmas party had finished. Had the assault occurred at the main party, vicarious liability would have been established, despite it being outside of working hours and away from company premises.

The High Court held that as the drinks were no longer a company event, Mr Major was no longer acting in the course of his employment. The discussion between the two men had been, for a significant time, on other topics and the fact that the topic of conversation changed to work did not provide a sufficient connection to support a finding of vicarious liability against the company.

This judgement is a timely reminder for employers regarding their liabilities. Employers  may consider gently reminding  all employees that conduct rules are equally applicable at both work related  and social events regardless of whether they take place on or off site, and whether in or out of normal working hours. Employers may also wish to limit alcohol consumption and provide food during the event to minimise the risk.

This article is from our weekly Employment Law Newsletter published on 15/12/2016.  If you would like to receive this newsletter directly and be kept up to date with recent cases and Employment Law news, email events@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.