The court heard that John Major, a director and shareholder of the defendant company Northampton Recruitment Limited, assaulted the claimant Clive Bellman by punching him twice and knocking him to the floor, in the course of which his head hit the marble floor and he sustained serious head and brain injuries. Because the assault happened after the function had ended and the Director and the salesmen had continued drinking and talking both inside and outside the hotel the Court did not find the activity was sufficiently connected to the firm night out and the victim's employment. At common law the salesman would have had a basis for suing his boss personally, but would not know whether or not he could meet any judgement awarded.
There have been several cases involving an employee assaulting a fellow worker such as Vaickuviene v J Sainsbury plc (reported in 2013) where an employee, Mr McCulloch frequently worked on the same shift as the deceased, Mr Romosov who was Lithuanian. Mr McCulloch had made previous racist comments about him. Following an argument at work he attacked him in a supermarket aisle with a knife taken from a shelf in kitchenware section and murdered him. A damages claim was raised by his family against Sainsbury PLC as Mr McCulloch's employer.
It was held that it was not just and reasonable for employers to become vicariously liable for all acts of harassment or assault solely on the basis of the attacker being employed by them and the incident happening at work. Sainsbury PLC were held not liable for the attacker's actions.
An employer may be found liable for harassment where an employee in a dominant role (eg a supervisory role) harasses or assaults an inferior worker in an attempt to enhance productivity or enforce discipline, but that was not the case here. There was some evidence that the company ought to have known or been made aware through local management that McCulloch potentially posed a danger - Mr Romosov had complained of his behaviour in the past.
Difficult questions may arise where an employee seeks damages against a fellow employee for conduct out with the usual scope of his employment. In such cases care must be taken to consider in detail the evidence before reaching a concluded view.