Employment solicitor, Alex Christen, takes a look at how employers may be responsible for staff conduct and Christmas parties - and how employees can avoid risking their jobs.

The festive period is guaranteed to supply drunken Christmas party stories. Sometimes, these inevitably land employees in hot water. A recent High Court case was no exception.

The High Court recently had to consider whether a company, Northampton Recruitment, was liable for injuries caused by one of its employees – after its Christmas party had ended. 

Following, the Christmas do, some staff decided to carry on the party at a hotel. At around 3am, conversation turned to work and matters got quite heated – resulting in one of the directors punching a manager and causing him serious brain injury. The manager opted to sue the company (rather than the director personally) for the injuries caused.

The question for the High Court was whether the Director had been acting in the ‘course or scope of his employment’, for any company liability to bite. Given that the assault took place at after-party drinks (which were not considered to be an extension of the Christmas party), the Court held that the situation was too far removed from the Director’s employment to place any blame on the company’s shoulders. Clearly, if a fight had broken out at the Christmas party itself, matters would be quite different.

As ever, this decision is a timely reminder that, while employers want staff to enjoy the festive period, they must manage employee behaviour (including ‘banter’, or other potentially unacceptable conduct) appropriately at any event where alcohol is flowing freely.

For some tips on how employers – and employees – can avoid potential problems during the festive period, take a look at Capital People’s HR expert Cathryn Foreman’s recent article for The HR Review.