Employer clients sometimes ask whether they are liable for employee related incidents occurring outside work.

Such queries reflect the fact that the boundaries of the workplace have blurred considerably in recent years and the line between what is and is not in the course of employment is not always a bright one.

This was reflected in a recent UK High Court decision affecting an employer who had organised a Christmas party at a local golf club. After the party, a number of employees moved to a different venue and continued drinking. At that other venue, after a work related conversation became heated, a senior employee assaulted another. The unfortunate victim hit his head on the marble floor and suffered brain damage. A claim for damages was made against the employer who was alleged to be vicariously liable for the injuries suffered.

The High Court found that as the revellers had moved from the employer organised venue (the golf club) to an un-planned venue (the hotel), the connection between the incident and the employer was severed and the employer could not be held vicariously liable for the assault. The court held that the action of continuing to drink at a separate location was completely voluntary and a personal choice by those who left the original venue and that the incident was “so far removed from employment” that the employer could not be vicariously liable.

Employers should be mindful of their potential liability for incidents at staff social events. Certain steps can be taken by employers to limit the risk of liability, including notifying employees prior to any social events that a certain standard of conduct is expected of them.

A copy of the UK decision can be found here.