BLM’s Alistair Kinley and Andrew Lawson have written an interesting article in respect of the High Court case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB) where an employee assaulted another member of staff after an organised Christmas party.

The assault took place following an organised Christmas party and the further social drinking that took place was found not to be an extension of the organised work event. The High Court noted that for a significant period of time the conversation between people had been about social topics and not about work and concluded that there was insufficient connection to make it right for the defendant to be held liable for what happened.

It can be seen that the High Court took a common sense approach and was wary of extending the situations where vicarious liability applied. This case is positive because it shows that an employer will not be liable just because one employee assaults another and work was being discussed at the time.

It should be noted that if the assault had taken place at the Christmas party then the result would have likely been different because it would have been seen that there was sufficient connection for the defendant to be held liable for the employee’s actions. It was specifically noted that the employee was the managing direction of the defendant company and had a role in the organisation and planning of the work Christmas party. Also, the assault would have been linked to his position because the dispute was in respect of a work issue.

The law of vicarious liability continues to be on the move so it is essential that employer’s actively take steps to mitigate the risk of violence in the workplace by reviewing their policies on the issue, ensuring that these policies are brought to the attention of all staff and, where there is violence, taking necessary disciplinary action.

Also, employer’s should take steps to ensure that employees have sufficient training in relation to diversity, equal opportunities and anti-discrimination and that sufficient policies are in place to try and tackle the onset of any violence in the workplace and to avoid these types of potential claims.