An employer is vicariously liable for the wrongful actions of its employees if there is a sufficiently close connection between the employment and the wrongdoing. The court has to decide whether the acts occurred in the course of employment, given the context and circumstances. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd the Court had to apply those principles to a case in which a company director assaulted another employee after a work Christmas party, causing him significant injuries.
The party was held at a local golf club. All employees and their partners were invited. As the judge said, "not surprisingly alcohol was consumed by many attending". When the party finished, some of the guests (but not all) went on to a local hotel and continued drinking. This was not pre-planned. Late in the evening, following a dispute about work matters, a director of the company carried out an unprovoked assault on another employee.
The Court decided that the company was not liable for the actions of the director. The "impromptu drink" at the hotel was not an extension of the work Christmas party, even though it was likely that it would have been paid for by the company. Although the discussion that resulted in the attack was about work matters, this did not necessarily mean that it took place "in the course of employment". Colleagues had voluntarily and independently taken part in an early hours drinking session unconnected with the company's business. Despite having great sympathy for the injured employee, the Court found that there was an insufficient connection between the director's employment and the assault for the employer to be vicariously liable.