Work’s Christmas Party
If an office Christmas party takes place within working hours, or out of working hours, in the office or away from the office, it will be considered an extension of the working environment. While the Christmas party is an opportunity to break loose and be remembered, employers should be aware of the risks in employment law. All employers should try and minimise the risks and provide a safe environment for all employees.
As a matter of good practice employers should ensure that each employee is invited to yearly Christmas party to prevent any discrimination complaints. It is vital that employees who are on maternity or paternity leave are invited and also those who are on sickness leave dependent on the individual’s illness.
It is important that employers do not insist that employees be present at the Christmas party. If the party takes place out of office hours, employers should take into consideration that some employees may have other responsibilities. It is important that employers do not put pressure on employees of non- Christian faiths if this could lead to them feeling uncomfortable.
Employers could be liable to third parties who cause any trouble at events. An example being, an employer held an event out of the workplace and invited speaker Bernard Manning, the employer was unfortunately held liable in a claim by one of the Afro-Caribbean waitress at the event who was offended by the speaker’s racist jokes. It should be considered by employers to brief both entertainers and speakers prior to events to guarantee that their material is appropriate and will not offend third parties or employees.
Venue and the entertainment
It is vital that employees choose the right venue for the work Christmas party. The most vital part of planning the venue is ensuring that all employees are able to attend and have a good time.
When planning the venue it is important to think about ensuring that the location is viable for all, suitable for all ages of employees and also provides access and facilities for those with disabilities. Where a venue may offend employees of a particular religion or sex should be evaded as a claim for discrimination could be the result.
Pre-party guidance and policies
Behaviour that is drink fueled is the most popular case of numerous tribunal claims every year, so employers should ensure that clear guidelines are set as to the behaviour expectations at the office Christmas party. It should be made clear that violence, unwanted conduct, discriminatory remarks and excessive alcohol consumption will not be accepted. The consequences or disciplinary action of these should be highlighted to all employees prior to the event.
Be mindful that it may be an idea to remind employees of the policies and procedures that will be in place.
‘Tis the season to be jolly
While it can be an issue to stop employees from over-indulging during the Christmas period, limiting the amount of free alcohol, supplying enough food and providing non- alcoholic drinks can support in limiting the risk for employees becoming too merry. It is important to ensure that employees who are under 18 do not drink. It is employer’s responsibility to ensure this does not happen.
Employers should also take into consideration those employees who do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods and that the catering arrangements should be taken to consideration to account for different individual needs and requirements.
Employers hold a duty of care towards its employees throughout the employee’s employment with the company and duty will extend to events such as the Christmas party. It is important those different factors are taken into consideration such as post party travel arrangements to reduce risk to their employees on their journey home.
Christmas is both a Christian holiday as well as a state holiday, holding an event/ celebration at Christmas is not likely to fall foul of the Employment Equality Regulations 2003.
If you however present the Christmas party as one being a “boozy night out” this could potentially seclude your employees whose faith could prevent them from attending such night out, and therefore this would be discriminatory. Further to this you should not insist that an employee come to the Christmas party, if that employees turns down the invite as a result of their belief or religion. This also extends to female employees who may have childcare commitments as you could risk having a sex discrimination claim made against the company.
Bullying, harassment and discrimination
In the case of Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors a perfect illustration is provided as of one of the many problems that could arise as a result of Christmas parties.
An employee claimed constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment after malicious gossip was spread about her pregnancy following the Christmas party, where she had been seen by employees kissing another employee and also going into a hotel room with him. The HR manager had knowledge of the employee’s pregnancy and began gossiping with other employees as to whom the father could potentially be. The female employee raised a formal grievance but this was not dealt with accordingly. On appealing this case, the EAT held that the tribunal was wrong in not making findings of pregnancy related harassment and discrimination and also sex discrimination.
Interestingly, the fact that the employee had put her sexual life into the public domain, and acted in a way which was bound to provoke gossip, did not assist the employer in relation to either liability or quantum.
This should be served as a reminder to all employers that precautions need to be taking both during and after the Christmas party. It is key that employers have both procedures and policies relating to bullying and harassment, disciplinary and grievance and also discrimination to ensure that they are in a better position to deal and handle these issues if and when they arise.
It is good advice for managers not to discuss remuneration or career potential with employees as good intentions and words of encouragement could be misinterpreted.
In the case of Judge v Crown Leisure Limited, an employee claim was that his manager at the Christmas party promised to give him a pay increase. As a result of this the employee resigned and claimed constructive dismissal on the grounds that his manager broke a contractual promise. It was found by the tribunal that the promise made by the manager was too vague to amount to a contractual promise. The EAT held at the appeal that the context of the conversation indicated that the manager did not propose to enter into a contractual agreement and that it was just a statement.
However, this case could have been in favour of the employee, so it should not mean that things said at events such as the Christmas party could not ben intended to form legally binding commitments.
Another increasing risk is the use of social media such as Twitter or Facebook. It can be extremely tempting for users of these sites to share and upload pictures looking rather worse for wear. This could raise certain data protection issues for those employees who appear in the photos have not given consent to their images being uploaded onto such social media platforms. There could also be a risk of employees posting messages which could cause offence or embarrassment.
Activities such as the ones above have potential to damage reputations of employees and the trust between colleagues. This is in turn could bring the employers name into disrepute. It is advisable that companies have social media policies in place to ensure employees are well informed of the consequences or possible disciplinary actions which could result of non-appropriate use of social media.
it should be the decision of employers as to how tolerant they are in relation to absence or lateness to work the morning after the Christmas party. Employers should make employees aware that absences will not be tolerated and that disciplinary action could be the result if an employee does not turn up due to drinking too much. Employers should also be extra aware of employees who turn p to work the next day drunk especially if they drive o operate machinery as part of their job.