What is happening in UK Employment Law in 2024?
A comprehensive overview of the major changes to UK employment law and noteworthy cases employers need to be aware of in 2024.Read more
With workers looking forward to the annual Christmas party to eat, drink and be merry, it is important to remember that HR issues can arise even though the party may not be at the workplace. Mixing alcohol, a party atmosphere and diverse personalities does not always make for an evening of measured fun and can leave those in HR feeling anxious and businesses exposed to HR issues.
If things do get out of control, the next few days in the office could lead to grievances, investigations, disciplinary action and even dismissal for gross misconduct. Some types of inappropriate behaviour can also give rise to discrimination claims.
Employers must be aware that, despite office parties being held outside office hours and not on your premises, these are still considered as happening ‘at work’. Therefore, the employer’s duty of care to employees does not change.
Likewise, if parties are being hosted on site at work premises and alcohol is being provided, employers will be responsible for what happens during and after the event.
The following case law demonstrates potential liabilities for employers and their responsibilities during work Christmas parties:
This case focused on defining the remit of ‘course of employment’. The employment tribunal in the first instance held that sexual harassment that occurred during a car journey home from a work Christmas party was not within the course of employment therefore the employer was not vicariously liable. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned this finding and held that the employer was liable as the harassment in this case amounted to a continuing course of conduct.
In this case, three claimants were work colleagues who attended a party at which drinks were paid for by their employer. They became drunk, which resulted in an incident of personal abuse aimed at a superior and violent conduct. As a result of their actions while drunk, the three claimants were dismissed. The Court of Appeal approved the employment tribunal’s decision that the claimants were unfairly dismissed as the incidents had taken place outside working hours and in circumstances when a free bar had been provided by the employer. The decision to dismiss was therefore held to be outside the band of reasonable responses.
A lot of the major legal issues faced after a work Christmas party can be easily avoided. By taking pre-emptive action, this ensures that you are best placed as an employer should any issues arise.
For information and advice on all legal matters for employers, speak to one of the team on 01332 226 155 or fill in the form below.
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