Don’t let the Christmas Party Land you in Hot Water
Last week the news was dominated by coverage of a Christmas party that may or may not have happened at Number 10 during COVID lockdown restrictions in December 2020.
Since then at least one person has resigned and more questions are being asked. It is a good time to remind employers and employees about the perils of the Christmas party and the added concerns surrounding Covid variants.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year unless you’re the subject of a disciplinary following the works Christmas party or having to resign from your role due to misconduct (or gross misconduct).
As an employer it’s important to remind staff of a few do’s and don’ts in order to avoid grievances and tribunals in the New Year.
An employer could be held vicariously liable for an employees’ conduct during the party if it can be deemed to have taken place within the course of employment. In the case of Liveset v Parker Merchanting Limited UKEAT/755/03, a female employee was subjected to sexual harassment by a male colleague during the employer’s Christmas party and whilst travelling in the car on the way home was found to be in the course of employment. In this case, the female employee successfully brought a claim against her employer.
Social Media Policies
Social media is of course a minefield - shared pictures, offensive tweets, drunken messages – as employment law solicitors our advice ahead of the night is to make sure you have a social media policy in place and remind staff about it.
“It could be the case that reputational damage and potential data protection breaches occur if an employee posts a picture of a colleague or makes a discriminatory comment online,” advises Susan Mayall, Head of Employment Law at Pearson Solicitors.
“Most of the time the evening passes by without any problem at all, but just one rogue moment could land an employer or employee in bother and when things go wrong it can be costly, never mind the repercussions in the workplace,” she adds.
“There are a wide a variety of employment issues around socialising and the workplace; discrimination, sexual harassment, absenteeism after the event all come into play and so some seasonal advice given in the best interests of the business can never go amiss – especially if it might safeguard employees’ jobs in the long run,” Susan says.
The latest Coronavirus (Covid-19) Guidance
The Covid 19 guidance is constantly being changed in light of new variants and as the demand on the NHS increases. Businesses are having to adapt and make decisions in the best interest of their employees with the introduction of Plan B measures. Where possible Employers should be advising staff to work from home and make sure the workplace is well ventilated with fresh air for indoor meetings.
Employment Law Advice for festive fun
With the concerns of employees and employers growing over the Omicron variant and the potential of further restrictions over Christmas, many of the festive celebrations planned have been cancelled or rearranged.
It's important for employers to understand the potential risks of a Christmas party and should staff members not wish to attend the event due to Covid they shouldn't be treated unfavourably. Employers and managers should also make sure that all staff attending a Christmas party are aware of the latest Covid guidance with regards to face masks, lateral flow tests before attending events “flow before you go” and vaccine passports
- Remind staff that they represent the company and their behaviour on the night and off-line can affect the business’ reputation and standing in the community. Maybe send out an email beforehand setting out the dress and behaviour.
- Check your social media policy is in place – and remind staff about the etiquette and social media policies when posting messages or photos on social media platforms after a drink.
- Don’t discriminate and make sure the event is all inclusive, don’t forget to include those on maternity, paternity, sick leave and make sure there is disabled access as necessary.
- If offence is given at the party, deal with it quickly if possible. If the offence given highlights deeper issues, address them during working hours and not at the party.
- Sexual harassment claims can follow works parties, in one case a claim was made as an employee was harassed on the way home. The claim was successful as it was viewed as a continuation of previous harassment at the party.
- Remember some colleagues may still be cautious about social distancing and mask wearing so respect other people’s space and opinions.
“Everyone has been looking forward to Christmas 2021 given the challenges over the last couple of years. I would advise employers and staff alike to make a decision which is right for them and to have a safe and enjoyable time at Christmas” says Susan.
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Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.
This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.