Settlement Agreements after Christmas Parties

There are often settlement agreement disputes after Christmas Party type work drinks. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] the High Court held that an employer was not liable for an assault on an employee by the employer's MD during ‘impromptu drinks’ after the office Christmas party. The companies Christmas party took place at a golf club. Following the party, half of the guests went to a hotel where some were staying for an impromptu drink. Mr Major, the MD of Northampton Recruitment, lost his temper during the drinks after the party, when the conversation turned to work matters in the early hours of the morning. Mr Bellman challenged Mr Major, who then swore at Mr Bellman and punched him a couple of times, with the second blow knocking Mr Bellman to the floor. This fractured his skull and left him unconscious. He was later confirmed to have suffered severe brain damage. Mr Bellman brought a claim for damages against the company rather than against Mr Major (as the company insurance would be more likely to pay out if he were successful). The High Court held that the company was not liable for the assault because it happened during an ‘impromptu’ drink which was not during the work party, and the fact that the assault took place whilst discussing work matters did not necessarily mean that it was "in the course of employment". The court took into account that Mr Major, as the MD was authorised to act on the company’s behalf with a wide remit, and that things were done "his way". However, the wide range of Mr Major's duties did not mean that he was "on, or potentially on, duty" just because he was in the company of other employees, regardless of circumstances. The fact that the assault happened after a work event, (and that there was a change between the party at the golf club, and the impromptu drinks) suggested that there was a sequential and substantive difference between the two events, and the latter was not a "seamless extension" of the former; it was also noted by the court that the party itself passed without incident.
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