Employer liable for boss’s private party punch

November 22, 2018
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The court of appeal has ruled that an employer was vicariously liable for an employee’s injuries after he was punched by his boss at a private party. Does this mean that you’re now accountable for all incidents outside of work?

Unexpected socialising

In October 2018, an important ruling was handed down in Bellman V Northampton Recruitment Ltd 2018. In 2011, Northampton recruitment Ltd (N) which was owned by Mr Major (M) took 24 of its employees and their partners out for a Christmas Party. Afterwards, half the guests, including M and Mr Bellman (B) decided to continue drinking at a hotel. This part of the evening hadn’t been organised by N but it did pay for some of the drinks at the bar.

Talking about Work

By 3:00am several employees remained at the bar and the conversation turned to work. B and a few of his colleagues discussed a new hire who they felt was being paid substantially more than anyone else. M became annoyed about the topic of conversation and stated, “ I ******* make the decisions in this company, it’s my business”. He then punched B hard twice. The second blow caused B to fall backwards and hit his head on the marble flooring. He was knocked unconscious.

Serious brain injury.

B sustained a traumatic brain injury as a consequence of M’s action. His representatives brought a personal injury claim on his behalf, arguing that N was vicariously liable i.e. responsible for his injury. In 2016 the high Court ruled that the after-party at the hotel was “an entirely independent, voluntary and discrete early -hour drinking session” and “unconnected to work”. It was a private event.

Case continues

B’s representatives then appealed to the Court of Appeal. It has reversed the High Court’s decision and held that (N) was vicariously liable for M’s actions and B’s brain injury. This was because M had chosen “to wear his metaphorical Managing Directors’ hat” outside of work to “deliver a lecture to his subordinates”.

This ruling has altered the principle of vicarious liability, but what does it mean in practical terms?


It doesn’t mean that you are responsible for all incidents that occur between employees outside of work, e.g. if two employees come to blows down the pub watching a football match it has nothing to do with you.

If work becomes a topic of discussion at a private event and it get heated, you can now be held responsible, particularly where a senior employee asserts their authority over a junior member of staff.

You can’t ban employees from talking about work. However, you can take steps to protect your position by issuing a statement in advance of a work-related event which politely reminds staff that discussion about work issues may be inappropriate and a breach of confidentiality. If a private party continues afterwards, those who attend will have been warned and such behaviour is unacceptable.