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HCR Law Events

7 December 2021

Employment issues arising from work Christmas parties

Whilst many employers may be opting for smaller Christmas gatherings this year, it is still important to remember they are likely to be an extension of the workplace. Therefore, the way both employers and employees behave can give rise to claims or disciplinary action.

Whilst many will be keen to get out and make up for the loss of last year’s parties, there are some key considerations for both employers and employees. One drink can lead to another and what was meant to be an enjoyable evening can quickly have serious consequences.

Where an event is organised through the workplace, even if not on work premises, it will likely be considered an extension of the workplace. This may also be the case even after the official event has finished should the party continue elsewhere.

It is often sensible for an employer to distance themselves from unofficial after-parties and it is also useful to highlight to all staff when an event starts and finishes. In addition, whilst no employer wants to be seen as limiting the enjoyment of any party, it can be helpful to remind all staff of the behaviour expected. It is also useful to make sure that relevant policies, such as disciplinary policies and codes of conduct, make it clear that behaviour which occurs outside the workplace might still result in disciplinary action.

An employee can still be guilty of gross misconduct at a work party – gross misconduct could range from abusive language or illegal drug-taking to harassment or even staggering about in circumstances where the employer could be identified and, therefore, brought into disrepute.

Whilst no employer wants to be watching every employee, they should ensure that there is appropriate monitoring of behaviour.

An employee can be subject to the same disciplinary action if they are found to have committed acts worthy of disciplinary action at the party. However, just because it occurred outside the workplace, the employer should be sure to follow the same processes they would if the employee had committed the act in the workplace.

Employers should also be careful to ensure they do not fall foul of any incidents which could leave them vulnerable to claims from employees. Employers should look to carry out risk assessments of any venue to ensure they are limiting the chance of any negligence claim against them. In addition, employers can be indirectly liable in discrimination cases.

The risk of an employee saying something offensive to a colleague can be far greater once they have consumed a few drinks. If any employee wishes to raise a grievance about a fellow colleague their employer should guide them to the relevant policy.

Employers should also ensure they take any complaints from staff seriously and investigate them, where required. No employer would want to fall foul of being vicariously liable and failing to investigate the alleged bad behaviour of the employee.

The fallout from Christmas parties might not end on the night. All employers should make their employees aware of their social media policies and ensure that such policies refer to private use of social media which might still bring the employer into disrepute, in order to help prevent a potentially reputation-damaging photo or comment reaching social media.

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About the Author
Rory Ford, Solicitor

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