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Responsibility of a Company During Work Related Parties

View profile for Susan Mayall
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The question in the recent case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd was whether a company could be legally liable for the actions of their employees even at after work parties.

Yes, answered the Court of Appeal – but it depends on the facts.

The Facts

Mr Bellman was a sales manager for Northampton Recruitment (the Company) which was holding a Christmas party. At the end of the Christmas party the firms Managing Director, Mr Major, arranged taxis to transport members of staff to a local hotel where they continued drinking. The drinks purchased at the hotel were, in large part, paid for by the company.

Towards the end of the night, an argument broke out between employees. Mr Major, who was angry about this, called all of his staff into an empty room and gave them a long talk about his authority within the business.

Mr Bellman questioned the authority of the Mr Major which caused him to hit Mr Bellman in the head, leading to severe brain damage.

The Judgment

In the case that followed the first court to hear the case held that the Company was not liable for the actions of Mr Major. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed and held that in order to decide whether the Company was liable two key factors had to be considered:

  1. What was the nature of the employees’ job?; and
  2. Was there a sufficient connection between the job and the wrongful actions carried out by the employer so as to make the Company liable?

The Court of Appeal held that given that Mr Major owned the Company, he was the most senior employee within the Company and that he was completely in control of how he carried out his role then the Company was liable for the actions of Mr Major.

In large part the Court of Appeals decision is based upon the reasoning that, without being the Managing Director of the Company, Mr Major would not have been able to summon all the employees as he did – in that sense when he was talking to his employees about his authority he was doing so as the Managing Director of the Company and not simply as a person at a party.

The Court of Appeal also felt that it was important that the venue at which the punch occurred was a follow on from an organised work party and that it was attended by many employees of the company.

What Could This Mean For You?

In the run-up to the festive season, this judgment is important as it spells out the risks that employers could potentially face when organising festive parties for their employees.

Notably, the Court of Appeal felt that the question of whether a company was liable was not ‘clear-cut’ but was largely dependant upon the individual facts of the case.

If you are concerned about potential liability when organising a work-related party or concerned about the after effects of a party which has already happened, then seek legal advice. 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.