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Vicarious liability for remote Christmas parties

Festivities will be very different this year. Despite exiting a national Lockdown this week, 98.7% of the population in England find themselves in tiers 2 or 3 in the run up to Christmas. As such, meeting indoors with anyone outside your household is forbidden. It looks like for the majority, a work Christmas party can only take place remotely, or limited to 6 people outside.

With this in mind, we wanted to warn employers about vicarious liability surrounding Christmas parties and work events; even for those taking place via zoom.

The well-established Court of Appeal case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2018] held that an employer could be vicariously liable for acts carried out by employee’s ‘in the course of employment’.

In this case, a manager severely injured a college at an unscheduled drinking session that occurred following the Christmas party. Whilst court held that the unscheduled drinking session was not necessarily a seamless extension of the company’s Christmas party, the attack happened after a discussion about business matters which the manager’s decision-making had been challenged by the victim.

We wanted to warn employers about vicarious liability surrounding Christmas parties and work events; even for those taking place via zoom.

Of course, remote parties will protect colleagues from physical acts of violence like in the above case. However, employers should be aware of potential harassment and discrimination claims that could arise from colleagues making inappropriate and offensive comments at remote parties once the drinks start flowing, or otherwise.

The Northampton Recruitment case provides a stark reminder for employers that they could find themselves vicariously liable for acts of their employee’s at Christmas parties, other work events or even separate colleague organised events if committed in the ‘course of employment’.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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