Chester 01244 405 555

Grosvenor Court
Foregate Street Chester
Cheshire CH1 1HG
DX: 19990 Chester


Shrewsbury 01743 443043

Lakeside House
Oxon Business Park
Shrewsbury SY3 5HJ
DX: 148563 Shrewsbury 14

Slide e

Airport City, Manchester 0161 537 3324

Offices 204 and 205
Manchester Business Park
3000 Aviator Way
Manchester M22 5TG

4th November, 2020

Is an Employer liable for an employee’s practical joke gone wrong?

man holding phone with laughing emoji

No, held the High Court at an appeal in the case of Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd

The claimant in this case brought a claim of negligence through vicarious liability against the employer following a practical joke involving the claimant and another employee.

Amid rising tensions between two sets of employees on site, one employee hit two ‘air pellet targets’ with a hammer to surprise the claimant in an attempted practical joke.   The resulting loud explosion caused a perforated eardrum, tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss in the claimant.

The employee who performed the practical joke was dismissed; however the Claimant brought a further claim against the Employer alleging negligence for failing to prevent the act. The court disagreed with the judge noting…  Horseplay, ill-discipline and malice are not matters that I would expect to be included within a risk assessment. Those acts, by their very nature, are acts that the employee must know are outside behaviour that they should engage in at work.  I do not therefore accept that there was a failure by Tarmac to prepare a suitable and sufficient risk assessment because of its failure to identify in the risk assessments it has prepared the risk posed by horseplay, ill-discipline and malice.”

The matter was appealed to the High court and was struck out with the appeal judge noting that sympathy for the claimant cannot form a sound legal basis to attach liability to the employer.

Top tips for employers:

  • Establish clear Health and Safety policies.
  • Ensure employees know what behaviour and standards are expected of them in the workplace.
  • Ensure disciplinary policies include a full list of what are considered to be gross misconduct offences.

If you would like advice on workplace policies or any other Employment Law related matter please contact Debbie Coyne.

Debbie Coyne

Employment Law

Senior Associate
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405 537

Contact Us

You might also be interested in...

Explaining the Recent Industrial Action in the UK

28th September, 2022

Throughout the UK, many sectors are facing the threat of industrial action. We have already seen rail workers,... Read More »

Why it pays to seek legal advice before undertaking a new development

12th September, 2022

Partner and Planning Lawyer, Mark Turner, discusses a long running case that highlights not only how seeking legal... Read More »

New Measures Announced to Control the Number of Second Homes in Wales

9th August, 2022

Mark Turner, Partner and member of the Planning, Environment, Energy and Regulatory team, discusses the current issue surrounding... Read More »

Contact Us