Christmas party season is almost in full swing and with it comes the likelihood of a workplace claim as the result of inappropriate conduct.
At Employment Law Services (ELS), we strongly advise that employers are aware of their legal obligations to their employees.
Inviting your staff
In the first instance, it should not be made a requirement that all staff attend the office party. It is important to keep in mind that Christmas is a Christian holiday, thus, an employee should not be pressurised into attending the event if they do not want to on the grounds of religion. In addition, if the party is out of working hours employers should bear in mind some people will have family obligations that may stop them from attending.
Further, employers should ensure that all employees are invited to the Christmas party, this includes employees off on maternity leave, paternity leave and sick leave. Employers will expose themselves to complaints of discrimination should they fail to invite all employees.
Christmas party policies
Alcohol fuelled behaviour is at the root of several Employment Tribunal claims every year. It is important to note; the Christmas party is still a work-related activity. Employers should therefore inform their employees that excessive alcohol consumption, violence and other forms of unwanted behaviour will not be tolerated. All employees should be made aware of the disciplinary procedures that will result from such behaviour.
Tis the season!
To minimise the risk of employees getting too drunk at office parties, it is recommended that employers limit the amount of free alcohol, provide non-alcoholic alternatives and ensure there is enough food to balance it all out.
Bullying, harassment and discrimination
An employer can still be held liable for its employees if the misconduct happened out of working hours – what one may believe to be banter could be taken completely different from the person on the receiving end.
One case that highlights the severity of this, involved a city solicitor stating in public that his colleague had “great cleavage” and “great baps” – these comments were made at the office Christmas party and ended being settled in the Employment Tribunal for £1m!!!!!!
At EmployEasily, our advice is do not discuss salaries, promotions or remuneration with employees whilst under the influence!
This was seen in the case of Judge v Crown Leisure Limited – in which the employee claimed his employer promised him a wage increase during conversation at the office Christmas party. On returning to work his wages remained the same. It was at this point the employee resigned and took his employers to the Employment Tribunal claiming constructive dismissal on the grounds that his employer had broken a contractual promise.
However, in this event the EAT established that the promise was too vague and therefore did not amount to a binding contract. Employers should bear in mind that for a contract to be binding it does not always need to be in writing, and in this case, it could have easily gone in the employee’s favour. Employers should not assume that because it has been said at a social event that it cannot be intended to create legally binding commitments.
The growing use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram add another risk associated with the office party that employers should acknowledge.
Employers should reiterate to all employees the businesses social media policy and the consequences of posting pictures online that may damage the company’s reputation or breach another colleagues right to privacy. Our specialist consultants can offer advice and guidance on social media laws for employers.
The morning after the night before
It is up to each individual employer on how they approach the day after the office party, in regard to employee lateness/not showing up at all.
However, all employees should be aware that absence and lateness will be monitored and disciplinary action may be taken if they fail to turn up to work because of a hangover.
How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?
If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662. You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.
Please note, the information in this article is for guidance purposes only and it is therefore advised that employers seek legal advice before embarking on any enforcement action.