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Vicarious liability and the workplace Christmas party

With the Christmas party season in full swing it is worth a timely reminder about what you as the employer can be held liable for.

As the employer you can be held vicariously liable for the improper behaviour of your employees when it is connected with their employment, whereby they have acted in the course or scope of their employment.  Therefore their actions at the Christmas party are covered as they are attending because of their employment.  So should any incidents take place at the party you can be held liable, meaning both you the employer and the individual can be held responsible for the actions of that individual.

However, a recent case has clarified that this may not extend to employees that carry on the party somewhere else after the official one has ended, so for example if a group of them go to a bar and carry on drinking.  This may be viewed as private and therefore not connected with their employment, but will be dependent on the circumstances.   You should not therefore, assume that an incident taking place after the official party has ended will exclude you from liability.

In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment a director assaulted a manager after the party had ended and they and other colleagues had gone to a hotel bar and carried on drinking.  The Judge held that the company could have been liable if the blow had been struck during the Christmas party itself, but the assault in the hotel occurred after the party during a private drinking session and so the company was not vicariously liable.

It is advisable to send out a note, before the party takes place to all employees reminding them that whilst it is a social occasion it is still covered by your policies and procedures in relation to employee behaviour.   That any misconduct that occurs could be dealt with under the disciplinary policy, or that any grievance that is raised as a result of improper behaviour at the party, will be dealt with under the grievance policy.  Many employees do not realise their behaviour at a Christmas party is covered by the policies, so having sent a note beforehand will be useful should any issues occur, and better yet may prevent any from occurring in the first place.

AppleMarkRachel O’Connell – Solicitor & Director – Just Employment Ltd

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