Case in Focus – Northampton Recruitment

scale of justice

Clive Bellman vs Northampton Recruitment Limited

What happened?

A recruitment Company held a Christmas party which was organised by the Managing Director, John Major, and one of the employees in attendance was Clive Bellman. Alcohol was supplied at the party on the company tab. At midnight, the party drew to a close, but some members of staff continued to drink at the hotel bar; this was not a pre-planned extension of the party. In the early hours of the morning, employees began to discuss a colleague who they felt was being paid unfairly more than them, one of the employees in the discussion was Bellman. Major overheard, became angry, used expletives and stated that he makes the decisions in his business. He punched Bellman twice, and as a result he sustained traumatic, life altering injuries.

The Hearings

In 2016, the high court ruled that the recruitment business was not liable for Major’s actions as it was an ‘entirely independent , voluntary, and discrete early-hours drinking session of a very different nature to the Christmas party and unconnected with the defendant’s business.’ The claimant appealed, and the Court of Appeal overturned the decision, with the judges unanimously agreeing that the liability was with Northampton Recruitment Limited. They stated that Major `chose to wear his metaphorical managing director’s hat… to deliver a lecture to his subordinates.’

Take-away points

  • If a senior member of staff uses their authority and position at an event such as the one in question, vicarious liability is likely to follow.
  • Employers who arrange events should remind staff that attendance is voluntary and that discussing work decisions is to be discouraged.
  • Expected code of conduct should be clear for all work events, whether they are business meetings or social events such as a Christmas party.

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Posted in Blog, HR.