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Work Related Social Events

November 2015

Festive frolics?

As Christmas draws nearer, employers up and down the land are preparing for the institution that is the company Christmas party. Much time and effort is expended on preparing for the event, but when employees are encouraged to relax and let their hair down, a combination of alcohol consumption and relaxed inhibitions can lead to a massive HR headache for employers. So, without wanting to spoil anyone’s festive cheer, here are a few points to remember in order to keep your days merry and bright!

  1. Christmas parties and social events are, in most cases, enjoyable and positive in terms of boosting employee morale. The main problem for employers is that, from an employment law point of view, a work-related social event like a Christmas party is effectively an extension of the workplace and an employer is likely to be held liable for the actions of their employees – a concept known as ‘vicarious liability’. In this context, harassment is likely to be the most common concern.

    An employer will have a defence to a claim of vicarious liability if it can show that it took such steps as were ‘reasonably practicable’ to prevent the employee doing the act. It is, therefore, sensible to consider having a policy in place covering work-related social events. Simply-docs have produced a Work-Related Social Events Policy to remind employees of what their employers expect of them and that their behaviour at social events may have serious consequences. If a policy seems too formal, then a suitably-worded email sent round before a social event could be a good compromise. 

  2. Remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas and appropriate care and sensitivity should be taken to ensure that employees do not feel excluded or uncomfortable. Similarly, Secret Santa gifts at Christmas parties should be chosen with the intention of raising a smile and not causing embarrassment to the recipient or anyone else. 

  3. Make sure that venues for Christmas parties or other social events are accessible to anyone with a disability. 

  4. Ensure that non-alcoholic drinks are available to encourage sensible drinking and in order to cater for individuals who choose not to drink for religious or other reasons.

  5. Issues can arise if employees post photos of the office party on social networking sites like Facebook. Employers should ensure that their social media policies make it clear that employees will face disciplinary action if they post comments or photos which may bring the company into disrepute. Employees should also be aware that photos of colleagues should never be posted on social networking sites without the individual's consent.

What if things go wrong at a Christmas party or if, after the event, individuals change their mind about what is and is not acceptable?

The key thing is to handle complaints and grievances in line with the employer’s normal disciplinary and grievance policies and in a timely manner. A grievance received following a Christmas party must be treated no differently than it would if it were submitted at any other time. Don’t just dismiss a complaint as ‘the drink talking’: one person’s banter is another’s harassment.

The contents of this Newsletter are for reference purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Independent legal advice should be sought in relation to any specific legal matter.

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