It’s that time of the year again – Christmas parties
and work socials galore. That heady mix of festive spirit and
copious amounts of free alcohol. Add in work colleagues and things
can get a little bit sticky. As some employers have learned the
hard way, there is a fine line between the point at which a work
event ends and a private social event begins.
Where mishaps do occur, employers could inadvertently find
themselves vicariously liable for the actions of their
An employer can be held responsible for the actions of employees
“in the course of employment”. The employees actions
must be “so closely connected with [the] employment that it
would be fair and just to hold the employers vicariously
Whether something is done “in the course of
employment” is highly fact sensitive, which is demonstrated
by some of the seemingly conflicting case law in this area of
Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd 
In this recent case, a manager assaulted a director after a
Christmas party, causing him serious brain injury. As is not
uncommon, after the Christmas party, a group of employees carried
on the night with another drink at a hotel nearby. The relevant
assault took place at the hotel at 3am. The High Court held that
the employer was not vicariously liable, as the employee’s
actions were not sufficiently connected to his employment. The
Court considered that the after-party was a private event as it had
taken place in a different venue to the work Christmas party, a
significant period of time had passed since the party had ended, it
was not pre-planned and the employer was not paying for the
Livesey v. Parker Merchanting Ltd 
By contrast, on a similar set of facts, the employer in this
case was found vicariously liable for the actions of its employee
who sexually assaulted a colleague after a work Christmas party.
The distinguishing fact was that the assault occurred in the car on
the way home, immediately after the party. The Court found that the
conduct in question was a continuation of sexual harassment by the
employee at the work event and, as such, was in the course of
What can employers do to mitigate some of the risks?
The cases demonstrate how difficult it can be to draw boundaries
between what is a work event and what is a social event. Employers
should have adequate policies in place to set out what behaviours
will not be tolerated. Employees should be reminded of these
policies before work events and training should be provided where
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