Perils of the Work Christmas Party
Love them or loathe them, the season of the work Christmas party is well and truly upon us. For most, it’s just a chance to relax and have fun, but things can get out of hand, and many employers aren’t aware of some of the potential consequences…
Perhaps the most obvious is reputational damage. We suspect the hotel that hosted a party for a large veterinary practice were unimpressed to see (on CCTV) two nurses stealing alcohol after the subsidised bar had finished. A fight involving one employee dragging another across the floor by her hair only made things worse!
In another case (Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd), a company was held vicariously liable for the actions of a managing director who punched an employee (causing brain damage) at a gathering in a hotel post-function.
This case highlights the fact that liability can extend beyond the official event hosted by the company, into less formal gatherings. (See https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/2214.html for full details of this case). Incidences of harassment are also possible, particularly when people have been drinking and the usual norms of office behaviour seem not to apply. Again, if someone suffers sexual or racial harassment at a business function, and it is not dealt with appropriately, the company may be vicariously liable and face a claim for compensation. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many people rightly feel more empowered to speak out about incidents they may once have felt they just had to ‘put up with’.
So what should you do?
Without wishing to kill the Christmas party spirit, you should make your employees aware that, even if it is held away from the workplace, it is a work-related outing, and certain standards need to be maintained. Have a clear policy on this, and warn them that in certain circumstance, they could face disciplinary action. You may also want to set some guidelines about posting to social media during or after the event….
Other things to remember
Make sure everyone (including those away from work, such as on maternity or long-term sick leave) are invited, but don’t pressure anyone to attend. Be aware of possible religious or cultural sensitivities and differences. Avoid too much work-talk at the event, and be extremely careful not to get drawn in to conversations about other people in the workplace or anything touching on pay/ promotion etc. It’s all too easy to say something ambiguous that sets up false expectations and possible conflict well into the New Year.
In short – remind everyone what standards of behaviour you expect from them, and the possible consequences if they fall short. Then go and enjoy the party!
Please note – the information in this article is provided for general guidance, and is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice in any particular situation.