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The Christmas party scrooge

Nothing screams ‘scrooge’ more than the employment lawyer’s annual article regarding the potential pitfalls of the well loved Christmas party. However, with 9 out of 10 employers reported to have experienced an employment issue arising from a Christmas party, it is always useful to reinforce some of the key legal points.

The Christmas party is ‘work’…
Even if your Christmas party is outside of working hours and held away from the office, it will still be considered an extension of the working environment. For employers, the upshot of this is that you could be held liable for any acts of harassment or discrimination at the event, unless you can show that you took reasonable steps to prevent it from happening.
One example of a ‘reasonable step’ that an employer can take is to provide guidance to employees about the standard of behaviour that is expected of them and to remind employees that any inappropriate behaviour could lead to disciplinary action. It may also be a sensible time for you to ensure that all polices and training relating to harassment, discrimination and equality and diversity are up to date and fit for purpose.
Treat concerns seriously and consistently…
Unfortunately, despite all good intentions, employment issues can still arise. It is important to treat any concerns that are raised seriously and not to be tempted to brush the concerns off as ‘party banter’.
As illustrated in the recent, well publicised case of Westlake v ZSL London Zoo, it is also important to treat any misconduct in a consistent manner. In that case, two zookeepers were involved in a fight at their Christmas party, but only one was dismissed whilst the other received a final written warning. The Employment Tribunal concluded that the dismissal was unfair and that the employees should have received the same sanction.
Consistency of treatment may prove difficult for employers who have historically taken a lenient view of inappropriate behaviour at previous Christmas parties. If you intend to adopt a more stringent approach than in previous years, this should be communicated clearly to employees to minimise the risk of any subsequent disciplinary action being deemed unfair.
The morning after the night before…
If your Christmas party is to be held on a weeknight you will need to decide on how you intend to deal with lateness and absence from work on the morning after the party. Again, communication and consistency is key. Ensure that employees are aware of what is expected of them and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken. From a health and safety point of view, employers will also need to be vigilant of employees attending work who are still under the influence of alcohol, especially for those employees required to drive or operate heavy machinery.
And finally…
With the legal issues tackled, it just leaves me to wish all our readers a very enjoyable, and issue free, festive period!
For further advice or information  please contact the Employment team on 088 088 6004.