The High Court ruled on December 1, 2016 that Northampton Recruitment
Limited was not liable when a manager punched an employee twice in
the head after a Christmas party. While the Company was not held
liable, the case is a cautionary tale for companies during the
Clive Bellman, an employee of Northampton Recruitment Limited,
attended his company's Christmas party at a golf club. As noted
by the judge, "[n]ot surprisingly alcohol was consumed by many
attending." After the party, Bellman returned to a
nearby hotel in a cab paid for by the company. After arriving
at the hotel by 1:00 a.m., Bellman and a number of other employees
continued drinking and discussing a number of topics with the
director of the company, John Major. Major and Bellman had been
friends for over 40 years, and Bellman had been recruited for the
company by Major. After continuing to discuss random topics, at
about 2:45 a.m. the group started to discuss company business,
including deriding Major for a recent appointment. The argument
continued, until Major punched Bellman. Bellman was knocked to the
ground and was bleeding from his left eye. After Bellman got up,
holding his hands up "in a gesture of surrender," Major
rushed at Bellman again and punched him, slamming his head into the
Even with these facts, the court held that the Company was not
liable for this attack. Although Major and Bellman were discussing
work related topics and the assault occurred after a company party,
the court found it important that the later conversation was
clearly distinct from the earlier party. The court held that,
"Standing back and considering matters broadly, what was
taking place at 3.00 a.m. at the hotel was a drunken discussion
that rose after a personal choice to have yet further alcohol long
after a works event had ended." The fact that the
conversation "veered into a discussion about work" did
not provide a "sufficient connection" to the
company. In the end, the court held that Bellman and Major
were on "a frolic of their own."
The fact that the conversation was hours after the company party
and was the "personal choice" of all involved insulated
the company from liability in this case. Nonetheless, employers and
managers should look at this recent case as a cautionary tale.
Holiday parties, because of the combination of employees
interacting with supervisors and potentially free-flowing alcohol,
create a perfect cocktail for potential liability for employers.
Had this fight taken place during the party, the company would have
been liable in this case. Employers should be aware of these risks
while also thanking employees for their hard work this past year
and providing them with a joyful holiday environment.
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