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Legal Advice In The Christmas Party Season

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Consilia Legal, Marie walsh By Marie Walsh

Festive Cheer

You might be interested to hear about a recent High Court Case called Bellman -v- Northampton Recruitment Limited [ 2016 ]

I know at this time of year there are a number of articles flying around about how to behave at work related Christmas parties and what you should and shouldn’t do but this case really does explore the potential liabilities of a business and the individuals involved when sadly matters get out of hand.

It’s a well-established legal principle that companies can be liable for the acts of their employees (this is called vicarious liability).  This applies when the employee is acting “in the course of his or her employment”  For example if an employee is harassed at work by an employee or at an event outside work but closely related to it,  the company can be liable for the employees acts in certain circumstances.  The Employee can also be personally liable but in most cases the company is perceived to have deeper pockets ( or insurance )

In this case the court had to consider whether a company was liable for one employees violent attack on another following a Christmas party.

The party had taken place at a golf club and had gone well.  Afterwards a number of employees including the MD went back to a hotel where some of the employees were staying and as often happens decided to have another drink.

The conversation turned later in the night to work related topics and the MD punched another employee twice the second punch knocking him to the floor and fracturing his skull leaving him unconscious.  The attack left him with brain damage and the court heard that as a result it was unlikely that he will work again.

The Employee brought a claim against the company for the actions of the MD on the basis that it was liable for his conduct that night.

The High Court dismissed the claim and a key point in its judgement was that the attack occurred during an “impromptu drink” which was not part of the actual Christmas Party.  Neither was it a seamless extension of the party.  Some employees did not go back to the hotel.  The court also found that the party itself went without incident despite the provision of alcohol and the after party as it were arose as a result of “voluntary and personal choices by those present to engage in a heavy drinking session”

In this case then the company was not liable.

It could have been a much different story however if the events had occurred at the golf club for example and each case of this type is decided on its own facts so its not definitive.

These principle can also apply to other occasions such as, away days, drinks after work, training courses, the list goes on.

So what is the moral of this story then?  Some lawyers may advise companies not to hold a Christmas party, others may advise employees not to attend the Christmas party.

For me it’s simply to be careful not only during the festive season but in relation to all work related functions/events (especially those involving alcohol) and if you wouldn’t behave the way you are acting in the office (aside probably from the wild dancing – or maybe that’s just me) then think twice.

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