Was an employer responsible for a post-Christmas party incident?
Court of Appeal ruling says “yes”
An employer was liable for their MD’s actions after the work’s Christmas party.
Businesses can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, even if they take place outside the workplace, rules the Court of Appeal.
We reported on the High Court decision in this case back in 2016.
In 2016 the High Court held that an employer was not responsible for a fight that broke out between its managing director (Mr M) and sales manager (Mr B) after the official work party had finished.
It ruled that the company could not be held liable for Mr M’s actions as the work party had ended by the time the fight arose and by then he was no longer acting in his role as managing director.
Court of Appeal’s decision
The Court of Appeal has now reversed this decision holding that, despite the time and the place, Mr M was ‘purporting to act as managing director’ and that, at the point his managerial decision making was challenged, he ‘took it upon himself to seek to exercise authority over his subordinary employees’. There was therefore sufficient connection between Mr M’s role and the fight that took place.
As commented by one of the judges, ‘misuse of authority can occur out of hours or when the parties are off-duty, particularly by someone in a senior position’.
Vicarious liability is a form of strict liability which means a finding of fault on the part of the employer is not required. Therefore an employer cannot successfully argue that it told its employees that the conduct complained of was prohibited.
Tips for employers
- Be aware that not only does vicarious liability cover actions committed by employees (in respect of, for example, bullying, harassment, discrimination, libel and copyright) but it also extends to the behaviour of third parties such as clients and customers (provided they are under the control of the employer);
- Take all reasonably practicable steps to prevent such acts or omissions from occurring by, for example, maintaining policies and procedures (e.g. an equal opportunities policy);
- Provide training to staff in respect of such policies; and
Set a good example. In this case, the employer’s managing director was the assailant.
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This bulletin contains general overview information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.