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Tis’ the Season for Employer’s to be Jolly Careful

christmas parties

Christmas Parties & Events

 

With Halloween and October behind us, the festive period is now looming large and it is that time of year where many businesses will be throwing parties and events to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the festivities.

Whilst Christmas work parties and other events are a good way of rewarding employees for their work during the past year and keeping morale and team spirit high, employers must be mindful of the risks of holding such events and the ongoing duty of care to all employees.

 

Is a Christmas party an extension of the workplace?

The case of Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and others set a precedent that social events away from the office involving employees from work either immediately after work, or during an organised party, fell within the remit of ‘course of employment’. In this case an employer was vicariously liable for an act of sexual harassment committed by an employee in a pub outside working hours.

 

Can an employee be fairly dismissed for behaviour at a Christmas party?

The case of Williams and others v Whitbread Beer Co demonstrates the importance of monitoring and controlling the alcohol intake and behaviour of employees. In these circumstances, an employer who provided an unlimited free bar at an office party was held by the Court of Appeal to have unfairly dismissed three employees for their resulting abusive and violent drunken behaviour. Nonetheless, dismissal following incidents at an office social event will not necessarily be unfair. In the case of Gimson v Display By Design Ltd, the employer was found to have fairly dismissed an employee for an altercation that took place after a Christmas party. This case also establishes that it is acceptable for employees to be disciplined for misconduct occurring outside of the office, provided that the incident is sufficiently closely connected to work to have had an impact on the work environment.

 

Top tips for employers to consider ahead of the festive season:

  • Employees should be reminded of all workplace policies and expectations relating to social events, general behaviour at work and dress codes. For example, a general memorandum could be circulated ahead of any workplace parties or events.
  • Make it clear that any unsatisfactory behaviour or misuse of alcohol at any events will be subject to disciplinary action.
  • Ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities in monitoring their own alcohol consumption but also ensure as the employer not to aid and abet drunken behaviour through unlimited free alcohol. For example, to help control alcohol consumption, set out that employees have a certain number of drinks on the company (e.g., wine for the table) and once they run out, they will have to buy their own drinks. Also ensure that venues provide non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Where any Christmas party or event is followed by a working day, there may be an increase in employee absence. If an employee has a clean absence record, having a reasonable suspicion that an employee is being untruthful may not be enough to result in formal disciplinary proceedings. To avoid absence, employers could consider discretionary incentives such allowing employees to come in an hour later than normal or provide breakfast rolls. Leniency with employees can demonstrate trust and boost morale.
  • Make sure that any events are as inclusive as possible and cater for those who do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods.
  • Be alive to the risks of any confidential information and/or photos published on social media which could be regarded as discrimination or bullying behaviour and could potentially damage the company’s reputation and/or effect ongoing business relationships. As above, ensure employees are aware of all relevant workplace policies for example, use of social media.
  • Avoid any discussions with employees regarding performance, salary or career prospects whilst at any event. Conversations of this kind and promises made to employees whilst under the influence of alcohol have been successful at Tribunal irrespective of the employer’s intention.
  • Given the potential ongoing duty of care following the end of any Christmas Party, think about arranging transport to ensure employees get home safely.
  • Consider appointing designated staff members/managers to monitor the activities of employees during events to ensure that matters do not get out of hand.
  • Always observe and comply with all obligations as an employer under Equality legislation to safeguard employees and make sure they are treated fairly in all circumstances.  Employers may consider making it clear to employees that workplace gossip is likely to cause harm to another may result in disciplinary action being taken.
  • Review insurance policies to make certain that any Employers’ Liability Insurance or Directors’ and Officers’ Liability Insurance is up to date.

 

Ultimately, as above, the festive period is a time for organisations to come together and celebrate the past year. Whilst the events are great for boosting team spirit and staff morale and act as a great way for employers to show gratitude to employees for all their hard work, employers should be aware of the potential risks and be prepared to deal with any issues that arise in a reasonable, fair and consistent manner.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice.

If you would like any further information or advice, please contact a member of our Employment department on 01256 320555 or mail@clarkeandson.co.uk

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