However, beware! With all the festivities of Christmas and a couple of tipples, things could change, as highlighted by a recent case where things turned a little sour at the office Christmas party.
A company was ultimately found vicariously liable for injuries caused by its Managing Director, who assaulted a colleague at impromptu drinks after the team Christmas party.
Northampton Recruitment Ltd's Christmas party at a golf club was followed by 'impromptu drinks' at a hotel, attended by around half of the party guests. The company paid for the Christmas party, taxis to the hotel and for accommodation at the hotel. It was also expected that the company would continue paying for drinks at the hotel even though this was not a pre-planned extension to the Christmas party.
In the early hours, a work-related conversation took place and ended up with Mr Major, the Managing Director, very seriously assaulting another employee, Mr Bellman. As a result of the attack, Mr Bellman was unable to continue working and brought a claim against the company on the basis that it was vicariously liable for the actions of Mr Major.
The High Court held that the company was not vicariously liable for Mr Major's actions and dismissed the claim. It found that there was insufficient connection between the incident and the employment and that the incident occurred due to the "voluntary and personal choices" of those involved.
The Court of Appeal found that there was a sufficient connection between Mr Major’s wrongful conduct and his role, and accordingly the company was vicariously liable for his actions. In reaching the decision, the Court of Appeal considered the following:
The court found that there was therefore a sufficient connection between Mr Major’s wrongful conduct and his role, and accordingly the company was vicariously liable for his actions.
This decision is specific to the very particular facts in the case and does not mean that employers will always be liable for the consequences of arguments between colleagues, even where one is more senior than another.
The case does however highlight risks that employers need to be aware of, especially heading into the Christmas party season. You should ensure that clear policies and guidelines are in place for staff at all levels regarding the conduct and standards of behaviour that are expected of them both in and out of work.