The extent to which employers can be held liable for the misdeeds of their staff is an issue that has been taxing legal brains for generations. However, the waters will be somewhat less muddied following a case in which a salesman who was attacked and seriously injured by his boss following an office party won the right to full compensation from the company for which they both worked.
After the Christmas party at a golf club, employees of a recruitment company had adjourned to a hotel to continue drinking into the early hours. After the conversation turned to work matters, the company’s managing director lost his temper and twice punched the salesman in the face. The salesman fell to the ground, striking his head. He suffered a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury.
However, in subsequently rejecting the salesman’s seven-figure damages claim against the company, a judge ruled that it was not vicariously liable for the managing director’s conduct. He found that the office party had ended several hours before the attack, that the meeting at the hotel was for social purposes and that the assailant’s behaviour had nothing to do with his employment.
In upholding the salesman’s challenge to that decision, however, the Court of Appeal found that the managing director was at the time purporting to exercise his authority over his subordinates and was not merely one of a group of drunken revellers whose conversation had turned to work. The attack arose out of a misuse of the position that had been entrusted to him by the company. The company’s vicarious liability had thus been established. The amount of the salesman’s compensation has yet to be determined, but given the severity of his injuries will be a substantial amount.