Who Is Responsible For An Injury At Work Christmas Party?
Suffered an injury at work Christmas party? You are not alone. All around the country, at this time of year, incidents happen with poor staff behaviour at the annual office party.
Who is responsible for an injury at work events?
Employers are likely to be found vicariously liable for an incident caused by its employees at a social event that can genuinely be classed as an extension of employment. This includes incidents at office parties, client functions and work-organised social events such as leaving parties or drinks.
The employer would therefore be held vicariously liable for inappropriate behaviour or accidents by an employee or an agent leading to personal injuries sustained to another employee or even a member of public.
What if the work party accident happens away from the place of work?
Employers have a duty to ensure that their work Christmas party is safe to attend. If they plan the event at work or at any other venue, they are responsible to ensure that the event is safe and poses no hazards or dangers. This means that if an employee is injured at that venue and they were not to blame for the injury, there is still the potential to claim against the employer.
However, an employer is unlikely to be responsible for incidents occurring as a result of an informal meeting of employees away from the usual place of work.
What if the work party moves on from the main venue to another location and the accident happens there?
There is now case law which found an employer vicariously liable for an employee’s injuries when an office party continued at a hotel after the official Christmas party but only if there is a sufficiently close connection to the activity going on.
In one case, after a company Christmas party, a group of employees staying in a nearby hotel on company expenses, decided to continue drinking together. Around 3am an argument between the managing director and an employee arose, in which the employee questioned the managing director’s decisions. The managing director punched the employee twice, causing him to hit his head and suffer a brain injury. The employee sued the company for being vicariously liable for the assault.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the managing director was the most senior employee so had full control over how he conducted his role and that there was a sufficiently close connection between his conduct and the activities.
So what is the test for vicarious liability which holds the employer responsible for actions performed by its employee?
- What was the field of activities assigned by the employer to the employee?
- Was there a sufficient connection between that field of activities and the wrongful act? i.e. whether the employee misused his position in a way which caused injury.
Accordingly, there is a wide interpretation of vicarious liability which makes the employer responsible for actions that transpired well beyond work hours and outside the workplace. It also expands what acts may be seen as having a close connection to the employee’s work.