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Recruitment Agency Held Liable when MD Punches Employee

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The Court of Appeal have held that a company is liable for a violent assault by the Managing Director on an employee after the company’s Christmas party. Although the assault happened at a different venue to where the Christmas party occurred, the Director was found to be asserting his authority in respect of work matters over the staff. 

The victim of the assault, Mr Bellman, was employed by the company as a Sales Manager. The company hosted a Christmas party in 2011 where 24 people attended. After the party, just over half of the guests went to a hotel for further drinks, with the taxis being paid for by the Managing Director. 

The majority of the group drank alcohol with the company picking up most of the bill. When the conversation turned to work matters, the Managing Director began to ‘lecture’ the employees stating that he owned the company and could do as he pleased! When the victim challenged him on his tone, the Managing Director responded aggressively and punched him. Two other employees tried to hold him back, but he broke free and punched him again, fracturing his skull and causing brain damage. This led him to suffer from headaches, insomnia, fatigue, low mood, deficits in memory and a language impairment. 

Common law shows that an employer can be held liable for their employees’ actions if they are carried out “in the course of employment”.

When Mr Bellman initially brought his case against Northampton Recruitment, the Judge held that they were not vicariously liable, but the Court of Appeal overturned this decision. 

During the appeal Judgment, the Judges stated that the initial hearing failed to consider the nature of the assailant’s role and in particular “the power and authority entrusted to him over subordinate employees”. The fact that the attack happened shortly after the company’s official Christmas party rather than a separate event, where the company paid for drinks and taxis, was a crucial in the finding to hold the company liable.

This is an interesting case for employer’s to be aware of, particularly as the Christmas party season is upon us and every year there are reports of issues arising at works Christmas parties. Whilst employers will not wish to appear overly restraining when it comes to Christmas parties, they do need to be aware that they are potentially responsible for what happens at these events. For more information about this topic, see our blog on Top Tips for Employers During the Winter Months.

If you require any advice on the issues above or any other area of Employment Law, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Chattertons’ Employment Team.

Case: Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 2214