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The question of how far an employer is vicariously liable for the wrongdoing of an employee was recently considered by the High Court in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment which involved an assault carried out by the director of a company on an employee after the company's Christmas party.

Crucially as far as the Judge was concerned, the assault was committed "after and not during an organised work social event": the office party had finished and the two colleagues as well as others had moved on to a different venue where they had continued drinking into the early hours. The Judge concluded that it became "an entirely independent, voluntary, and discreet early hours drinking session of a very different nature to the Christmas party and unconnected with the Defendant's business." Therefore in this case, the employer was not vicariously liable for the actions of its director.

The key question for the Courts in deciding cases on vicarious liability is whether the employee is acting in the course or scope of his employment. The Judge here noted that it is an area where "issues of policy" and a "value judgment" come into play. This decision may well have been different had the assault been carried out during the party itself, rather than after it had finished. A topical decision in circumstances where many employers will be hosting parties for their employees in the lead up to Christmas.

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