Christmas Party Liability

Is a Company liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work’s party has ended?

No held the High Court in a recent case. In this case the managing director violently assaulted an employee at an “impromptu” drinking session after the company’s Christmas party. The assault happened at a separate location at 3.00am. The drinks were separate from the Christmas party and the Company was not expected to pay for the drinks.

The employee decided to sue the Company (and in effect the Company’s insurers) rather than the director personally.

The question for the court was, when the assault occurred, was the Managing Director “acting in the course or scope of his employment”?  If so, the Company would be vicariously liable for his actions. Whereas “acting in the course or scope of employment” has previously been interpreted widely in other cases, in this case the Judge decided that as the assault took place after the party during a private drinking session, the Company was not vicariously liable. It was not an extension of the Christmas party – according to the Judge and it was “a frolic of their own”.

Employers should nevertheless still exercise caution. The decision does not establish that post- Christmas party drinks are always outside the scope of employment for the purposes of vicarious liability. The court emphasise that each case must be examined on its own facts. Further the test for vicarious liability in discrimination and harassment cases under the Equality Act 2010 has in some cases been interpreted rather more widely than in this case.

The judgement gives a useful analysis of the different case in this area, and is reminder to companies that they could be held to be responsible ultimately when there is improper behaviour at Christmas works events – especially where the alcohol is flowing freely!

The Employment Team at BRM wishes you a merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

About the author

Glenn Jaques is a director and solicitor specialising in employment law at our Sheffield office.

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