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Case law: Serious injury at drinking session following works party was employer’s responsibility

Employers should ensure they take responsibility for their employees’ safety and wellbeing after work-related social events have ended, as well as during them, as they can be vicariously liable for post-event injuries, as a recent case highlights.

November 2018

This update was published in Legal Alert - November 2018

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A director seriously injured a manager in an incident which took place after a group had gone to a hotel room to carry on drinking (at their own after-party) after their works Christmas party had ended. At the after-party, a row developed over the director’s decisions about a new employee. The director summoned staff and gave them a lengthy lecture about his authority in the company. When the manager continued to question the director’s decisions, the director punched him – causing him to suffer brain damage.

The manager sued the company (and its insurers) on grounds that the employer was vicariously liable for the director’s actions. To succeed, he had to show that the director was acting in the course or scope of his employment.

The High Court earlier ruled that the employer was not vicariously liable because the incident took place during a private after-party drinking session, not at the works party itself.

The Court of Appeal disagreed, ruling that the director was acting in the course or scope of his employment at the after-party.

It said the question was whether, given the nature of the employee’s job, there was a sufficient connection between that job and the wrongful conduct to make a finding of vicarious liability appropriate. Given that:

  • the director was the owner, directing mind and most senior employee in the company
  • he had acted as such when he summoned and lectured his staff
  • the after-party followed on from an organised works event which most staff had gone to, and
  • the company had paid for taxis and drinks to the after-party

there was a sufficient connection between the director’s job and his conduct, and the employer was therefore vicariously liable for the consequences of his actions.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers should ensure they take responsibility for their employees’ safety and wellbeing after work-related social events have ended, as well as during them, or risk being vicariously liable for post-event injuries.

Case ref: Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 2214

Please note: An article published in the January 2017 edition of Legal Alert covered this case at an earlier stage in the legal process.

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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