Vicarious Liability – Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd

 In a recent case at the High Court, regarding a Christmas party event, (Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB).) a claim of vicarious liability was brought against this particular recruitment company. Bearing in mind employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at work related social events, we usually publish some helpful hints for employers every December regarding their Christmas parties and what they should or should not do to ensure everyone enjoys a great night with staff knowing what is expected of them during work related social events.

The case

This particular case related to a Christmas party arranged by Northampton Recruitment Ltd for employees, their respective partners and other guests.  After the party, at the local golf club, a number of employees with their partners and guests travelled to another location at the Hilton hotel where more alcohol was consumed.  At the Hilton Hotel, the company’s managing director assaulted a member of staff (who was left brain damaged) as he felt his authority was being challenged.

Judgement and Decision

The High Court held that Northampton Recruitment Ltd was not vicariously liable for a violent assault by an employee (the company’s managing director) on a fellow employee at an “impromptu” drinking session straight after the company’s Christmas party. This late night, early morning drinking session was very different to the Christmas party and unconnected to the business of Northampton Recruitment Ltd.  The decision to engage in heavy drinking at another venue was “entirely voluntary and personal choice.”  It was not a pre-planned extension to the party and there was insufficient connection to support a finding of vicarious liability against the company that employed the individuals concerned.

The company was not liable for the managing director’s post-Christmas party assault on employee and the case was dismissed.

Whilst this decision may seem surprising given previous decisions in the Supreme Court, this does not mean employers can relax their standards as each case will be heard on the particular merits of a particular case.