Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Paying the price for festive fun

Staff Christmas parties can be a nightmare with the fallout creating more than just a bad atmosphere in the workplace, a Telford lawyer has warned.

John Mehtam from Martin-Kaye Solicitors said when things go wrong during a festive celebration, many people believed the employer would be held responsible as they had organised the event.

But John has welcomed a new High Court ruling that cleared a company of any responsibility when an employee launched a violent assault on a colleague at a heavy drinking session straight after the firm’s Christmas party.

“Employers are usually held vicariously liable for any misdemeanours their staff commit ‘in the course of their employment’, but this latest case is a clear indication that liability can be different in every individual case.

“The incident occurred after the company party when half the guests decided to go on to a hotel where some were staying to continue drinking. The court decided that the drinks were separate from the Christmas party itself and at a separate location, with employees’ partners and other guests there as well as staff.

“The conversation had mainly been about non-work-related topics, but the attack was triggered by a work-related discussion when the managing director felt his authority was being challenged.

“Following the incident, the victim made a claim for damages against the company saying it was vicariously liable for the managing director’s conduct.

“Now even though the company had paid the taxi fares for the guests to return to the hotel – and indeed, was paying for some or all of the drinks – the court ruled that the attack was outside the managing director’s course of employment.

“They said the incident happened as a result of entirely voluntary and personal choices by the staff who had decided to take part in the heavy drinking session, and so the company could not be held responsible.

“A key point of their decision was that the attack happened during an impromptu drink which was not a part of the official work Christmas party.

“So just because the evening had begun as a work event, the decision by the employees to continue drinking afterwards was critical to the court’s decision as it was clearly a separate situation.

“Employees should remember that although Christmas parties are a great time to enjoy themselves while the company foots the bill, the onus is on them to behave in an appropriate and acceptable manner.”