Neil Andrews - Partner, Coles Miller

Christmas Party Employment Law: New High Court Ruling5th Dec 2016

by Neil Andrews on 5th Dec 2016

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‘Tis the season to be jolly careful if you’re an employer…because you know all too well what can happen at Christmas parties.

They’re a minefield: alcohol, mistletoe, banter – you’ve seen all the Yuletide warnings from employment solicitors.Employment solicitor Neil Andrews, a Partner at Coles Miller, Poole

But now there’s a new High Court ruling on vicarious liability: whether or not you’re responsible for the behaviour of your employees immediately after the annual Christmas shindig.

Here’s the case in question…

A company held its office Christmas party (for around 50 people) at a golf club. Alcohol was consumed. The party ended and half the guests decamped to a hotel where most were staying.

At the hotel the drinking continued in the lobby bar. There was a row. A director punched one of his staff (a manager) twice.

The victim fell, knocked his head on the marble floor and suffered brain damage. He is unlikely ever to work again.

It’s a tragic case for many reasons: the severity of the injuries, the senselessness of it all and the fact that attacker and victim had been friends since childhood.

But here’s the question: is the company vicariously responsible for the actions of the director?

No, ruled the High Court – because the attack did not take place at the Christmas party. It happened after the party had ended.

But the lessons are there for all to see.

Alcohol has a nasty habit of creating potential powderkegs – and it takes only a spark to light the fuse.

So make it clear to all your employees that the Christmas party is an official work event and that normal office discipline still applies.

Have defined start and finish times for the party. And stick to them. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind what is and what isn’t company time – and what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.

No-one wants to be a killjoy. But there’s no joy in the consequences of drunken excess. So please be careful this Christmas.

For more information on employment law, contact Coles Miller Partner Neil Andrews, head of the Commercial Department, 01202 355695.

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