In part two of our Employers’ Guide to Christmas” we advised that employers could be held vicariously liable for the actions (or lack of) of their employees provided that said actions took place during the course of their employment. Many employers are unaware of this and also the range of actions which fall under the scope.

Bullying, harassment, discrimination or violent acts against fellow colleagues could all result in a tribunal claim and these actions do not have to take place in the workplace to fall under the scope. Work related events such as networking meetings and social gatherings are also considered an extension of the workplace.

With the office Christmas party season in full swing and it can be somewhat of an HR nightmare for employers. You can spend months planning every aspect to ensure that all eventualities are considered, but the one thing you cannot completely control is the behaviour of your employees once the festive cheer starts flowing.

So, at what point during the festivities can you, the employer officially clock off? The High Court last week issued a timely reminder of employer liability when the festive frolics take a turn for the worst.

The case in question was that of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment. Mr Bellman, a sales manager with Northampton Recruitment Ltd brought a claim against his employer asking the courts to consider whether or not they should be held vicariously liable after he was assaulted by Mr Major, a director and shareholder of the defendant company.

The incident took place in 2011 where, following the office Christmas party at a golf club, Clive Bellman and John Major, as well as other co-workers had continued to a hotel and carried on drinking into the small hours. At 3am an altercation broke out ending in Mr Major punching Mr Bellman twice and knocking him to the floor. As a result Mr Bellman hit his head and suffered significant brain injury.

The judge presiding over the case advised that had the assault taken place during the Christmas party the company would have been held vicariously liable. In this instance however, the incident had taken place during a private drinking session that had not been planned by the company and therefore they were not responsible for the individuals’ actions.

The judgement takes an approach to vicarious liability that although work related discussions were held between colleagues during the private drinking session, the company could not be held liable for the acts of their employees when they are committed during an unplanned extension to a work event.

If you are concerned about staffing issues over the festive period, our Employers Guide to Christmas provides helpful tips and advice on assessing the risks and managing problems. Don’t forget that our specialist employment law team is also on hand to discuss any specific concerns you may have.


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas & prosperous New Year!


The Backhouse Solicitors Team

Tel:         01245 893400