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Company held liable for MD punching employee after works party

Posted: 27th November 2018   In: Business Employment

A company has been found liable for an assault by its managing director after a Christmas party that left an employee with brain damage.

The incident happened after the director, John Major, organised and paid for a Christmas party for staff at Northampton Recruitment Ltd. After the party he arranged for taxis to take some of the attendees to a nearby hotel, where they were staying at the company's expense.

They all continued drinking and a work-related discussion turned to a new member of staff, who was said to be receiving higher pay than others.

Mr Major began to lecture his employees, and when challenged by his sales manager, Clive Bellman, he punched him twice. The second punch knocked Mr Bellman to the floor where he hit his head and sustained a serious brain injury.

The issue before the High Court was whether the company was vicariously liable for Mr Major’s actions.

The judge found that it was not, because the hotel drinking session was entirely independent of the Christmas party and unconnected to the company's business.

Mr Bellman appealed, saying that there was enough connection between the managing director's position and his wrongful conduct to render the company liable under the principle of social justice.

The company argued that Mr Major was a mere reveller at the hotel and was not acting within the course of his employment or his actual authority.

The Court of Appeal found in favour of Mr Bellman. It held that the judge had been wrong to find that there was insufficient connection between Mr Major’s field of activities and the assault.

The drinks occurred on the same evening as the work event paid for and orchestrated by Mr Major. He was present as managing director. His managerial decision-making having been challenged, he took it upon himself to exercise authority over his subordinate employees by summoning them and expounding the extent and scope of his authority with the intention of quelling dissent.

Giving judgment, Lady Justice Asplin said: “Mr Major was purporting to exercise his authority over his subordinates and was not merely one of a group of drunken revellers whose conversation had turned to work.

“He asserted his authority in the presence of around 50% of Northampton Recruitment’s staff and misused that authority.”

The amount of compensation Mr Bellman should receive is still being assessed.

Please contact Robert Bedford if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.