- By Paul Sullivan
The Court of Appeal in London recently considered the thorny issue of vicarious liability and what to do about the Christmas Do.
By way of background, the Appellant (Bellman) was employed by the Respondent as a Sales Manager. The Respondent’s business was effectively controlled by its Managing Director (Major).
At their staff Christmas party in 2011, Major physically attacked Bellman, leaving him severely disabled. The question was whether the company should be held liable for Major’s actions. At first instance, the Court said ‘No’. On Appeal however, the Court found for Bellman holding the company vicariously liable for Major’s misconduct.
The following words of Lord Justice Irwin are noteworthy:
"This case arose because of the way in which [Major] chose to exert his authority, indeed his dominance as the only real decision-maker, in the company... Liability will not arise merely because there is an argument about work matters between colleagues, which leads to an assault, even when one colleague is markedly more senior than another. This case is emphatically not authority for the proposition that employers became insurers for violent or other tortious acts by their employees."
You have probably already booked your Christmas Party. You might even be looking forward to it. It might be an idea though to lay down a few ground rules. Think about things like: health and safety; harassment; discrimination; use of social media and your policy on sick leave. Once you have made sure everyone (including your Managing Director!) understands the basics, you should find it that bit easier to relax and maybe even enjoy the festivities.
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