UK: Employer Vicariously Liable For Managing Director's Attack At Post-Christmas Party Drinks

Last Updated: 22 January 2019
Article by Wrigleys Solicitors

In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited, the Court of Appeal has overturned the decision of the High Court and held that a drunken attack by the managing director of a small business on an employee was in the course of employment. We reported on the High Court's decision in our December 2016 Employment Law Bulletin.

An employer will be vicariously liable for wrongdoing by an employee if that wrongdoing is "closely connected" with the employment. This was established in the case of Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2001] UKHL 22. The courts have applied a broad interpretation of this test. In the recent case of Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc [2016] UKSC 11, the Supreme Court held a supermarket vicariously liable for an employee's assault on a customer at one of its petrol stations. This was on the basis that there was a sufficiently close connection between the assault and the employee's job of attending to customers and the wrongdoing was a misuse of the employee's position as a petrol attendant.

In this case, Mr Major was the managing director of Northampton Recruitment Ltd. Mr Bellman was employed by the company as a sales manager. In 2011, the company organised a Christmas party for employees and their partners which took place at a golf club. After the party, a number of people who attended went on to have impromptu drinks in the bar of a hotel. The company paid for taxis to the hotel and for some of the impromptu drinks.

At around 2am a work-related discussion began concerning the placement of a new recruit within the business. Mr Major became angry and lectured his employees about his freedom to make decisions as the owner of the company. Mr Bellman, who had known Mr Major since childhood, challenged Mr Major in a non-aggressive way. Mr Major then moved towards Mr Bellman saying: "I f***ing make the decisions in this company; it's my business. If I want him based in Northampton he will be f***king based there". He then punched Mr Bellman twice. Mr Bellman fell to the floor, fracturing his skull. He suffered severe brain damage.

Mr Bellman sued his employer for damages in the High Court. The High Court held that the company was not vicariously liable for the assault. It found the impromptu drinking session was separate from the Christmas party in time and place. It decided that there was insufficient connection between Mr Major's role as managing director and the assault and so the wrongdoing was not in the course of his employment.

Court of Appeal did not agree. It made clear that two questions must be considered: what are the functions or "field of activities" entrusted to the employee (or what is the nature of his job); and is there sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and the wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable?

Lady Justice Asplin gave the leading judgment and held that Mr Major had a very wide field of activities as managing director. She made clear that the question is not what the employee is expressly authorised to do. She noted that vicarious liability had been found in cases where an employee had misused their position in a way which injured someone else. She also held that there was sufficient connection between Mr Major's job and the assault. She decided that Mr Major had chosen to wear his "metaphorical managing director's hat" at the drinks session (even though it was separated from the work's Christmas do in terms of both time and location). She noted that the conversation had focused on work for around an hour before the attack. She held that the assault was an attempt to assert Mr Major's authority and arose out of a misuse of the position entrusted to him as managing director. She held that those attending were doing so as subordinate staff members and managing director.

Lord Justice Irwin agreed with the judgment but wished to emphasise that "this combination of circumstances will arise very rarely. Liability will not arise merely because there is an argument about work matters between colleagues, which leads to an assault, even when one colleague is markedly more senior than another. This case is emphatically not authority for the proposition that employers become insurers for violent or other tortious acts by their employees."

This judgment is in line with that of the Supreme Court in Mohamud. It highlights the risk that an employer will be found vicariously liable for a wrongdoing where there is a close connection between the tortious act and the nature of the job carried out by the wrongdoer and in particular where the wrongdoing arises from a misuse of the position in which the wrongdoer is employed. Employers should be aware that vicarious liability can arise for acts carried out on or off work premises and both inside and outside working hours. The key question for the court will not be, did the act happen at work or at a work event, but rather, was the act closely connected with the wrongdoer's job.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions