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Mistletoe and Whine

» Posted on: 21 November 2006
» Posted by: Oliver McCann
» Service area: Employment

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It’s that time of year – the office Christmas Party. A time when your staff can let their hair down and share a few drinks (or more). The office party hangover can prove expensive if claims arise as a result.

Fighting and sexual harassment are common complaints which follow an office party, leaving you with a larger “hangover” than expected.

Just this month, an account executive’s claim for sexual harassment was upheld by the Employment Tribunal for conduct at and after the office Christmas do last year.

The perpetrator, a director, was found to have fondled, groped and kissed the worker and sent lurid text messages immediately following the party. The Tribunal are still to assess damages but we expect them to be substantial.

It matters not that the office party is held off work premises – it will still be classed as work related. It matters not if it is an employee who is guilty of the conduct rather than a Director – the Employer will still be held to be accountable for the employee's actions unless the Employer took all reasonable steps to avoid such conduct.

I don't want to sound like Ebenezer Scrooge so, rather than cancel your office party, here are some useful tips to follow to minimise your exposure:

  1. Send a memo to all attendees prior to the party encouraging them to enjoy themselves but at the same time reminding them that the Company rules still apply throughout the party and in particular fighting, bullying or any form of harassment will not be tolerated.
  2. Take care if you provide a free bar - inevitably this leads to unwanted behaviour and Tribunals have held that Employer's must take some responsibility for what occurs as a result. Make sure there is access to plenty of water and food.
  3. Make sure any "entertainment" at the office party is carefully selected and does not infringe discrimination rules. If you engage a comedian seek assurances that the content will not be distasteful.
  4. Watch out for workers who may have been drinking but still intend to drive home. If possible try to make some travel arrangements.
  5. Think carefully about the timing of the party. If some Employees are expected to turn into work the following day remind them that being under the influence, especially in a safety critical job, will not be tolerated and disciplinary action maybe taken. Also remind them of the risks of driving into work the morning after.

On that happy and festive note - have a wonderful Christmas!

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