After working hard all year long, the build-up to the work Christmas party is likely to create a buzz of excitement in the office as colleagues look forward to enjoying a night of celebrations.
Tina Chander, employment lawyer at leading UK law firm Wright Hassall warns: “Although you may want staff to enjoy their evening, it is worth reminding individuals of the potential legal issues faced during one of these nights out.
“From an employment law perspective, the fact that a party takes place away from the work premises and outside of normal working hours does not necessarily protect your business.
“The most common issues faced at an alcohol-fuelled party are mainly claims on the grounds of discrimination or harassment, and unfortunately for employers, there is always the risk of liability for the misbehaviour of their staff.
“When revellers have too much to drink, they can sometimes act in a way that they would never dream of when sober, and issues of sexual harassment or discrimination on the grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation are not uncommon.
“Existing workplace tensions can also come to the surface after a few too many drinks, which can sometimes lead to a verbal or physical confrontation between aggrieved employees.
“Such behaviour could lead to claims for potentially unlimited compensation against both the employer and the employee responsible.
“To lessen the risk of such issues occurring, employers should firstly recognise the potential for problems and take the following steps:
- Everyone must be invited, regardless of whether they are ill or on leave – not inviting certain individuals could result in claims of discrimination;
- When employees can bring partners, do not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and assume all partners will be of the opposite sex;
- Ensure that you have an equal opportunities/anti-harassment policy in place;
- Remind workers before the party that the same code of conduct applies, and that any instances of harassment, discrimination or violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances;
- Consider limiting the bar tab. Providing limitless amounts of alcohol to employees, without monitoring who is drinking what is irresponsible, and can increase the likelihood of a serious issue occurring;
- Consider appointing a senior, responsible employee to stay sober, monitor behaviour and step in if necessary.
Christmas Gifts with an ulterior motive…
Given the inevitable gifts and invitations to other organisations’ Christmas festivities, it is important for employers to be mindful of their potential liability under the Bribery Act 2010. Failing to prevent bribery in the workplace is strict liability, and employers must prove that it has ‘adequate procedures’ in place to successfully defend against such a case.
Liability arises from both offering and receiving bribes. Reasonable gifts and hospitality, such as a bottle of wine or an invitation to dinner should not raise too much concern, but if employees are whisked away on a private jet, sipping champagne to meet Father Christmas in Lapland, questions are likely going to be asked!
About the author: Tina Chander is an associate solicitor in the Employment team at leading Midlands law firm, Wright Hassall and deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues. She acts for employers of all sizes from small businesses to large national and international businesses, advising in connection with all aspects of employment tribunal proceedings and appeals.
About the firm: Wright Hassall is a top-ranked firm of solicitors based in Warwickshire, providing legal services including: corporate law; commercial law; litigation and dispute resolution; employment law and property law. The firm also advises on contentious probate, business immigration, debt recovery, employee incentives, information governance, professional negligence and private client matters.
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