Office Parties – Don’t Misbehave Under the Mistletoe

It’s that time of year again when office Christmas parties are on the horizon for many employers.  The prospect of an alcohol fueled night with colleagues may sound like great fun but it does throw up many employment law risks both for employers and employees.

A Christmas party organised by a business to reward staff for their hard work is likely to amount to an extension of the workplace.  This means that employees can still be disciplined if their conduct falls below acceptable standards (even if the party is held away from the workplace).  Likewise, employers can be liable for any discrimination or harassment which might arise.  The presence of alcohol at such events is only likely to add to the risk of such issues arising as staff let off steam at the end of another hard year. 

The wise employer will provide staff with written notification of the expected standards of behaviour, with appropriate reference to policies covering conduct, discrimination, harassment and health and safety.  If staff are expected to attend work the following day, they should be notified that any unauthorised absence could result in disciplinary action.  Employers should consider restricting the levels of free alcohol available and having designated managers remain sober in order that any unruly behavior can be addressed quickly.  The availability of non-alcoholic drinks is not only essential for staff under the age of 18 but it also prevents the risk of discrimination claims from those whose religion prevents them from consuming alcohol.  Employers should also plan the food menu carefully for the same reasons and ensure that the venue/timing is appropriate for all religions, sexes and has sufficient access for disabled persons.  A party held at a lap dancing club could contravene sex discrimination legislation.

Among the most common offences at office parties are fighting and sexual harassment.  Employers need to be aware that it is not only the actions of their own staff that they are liable for, but also the actions of any third parties.  For example, a comedian providing entertainment at the party made a series of discriminatory jokes the employer could be faced with claims.   

An employer’s duty of care to employees also throws up various other considerations.  A particular concern is the risk of staff drink driving or not getting home safely.  It is worth laying on transport or at least reminding staff not to drink and drive.  Having a list of telephone numbers for local taxis is another useful risk management tool. 

Finally, the purpose of this guidance is not to sound like a killjoy but rather to minimise the risks associated with such parties and to facilitate a good time for all!

Jack Boyle
Solicitor – Employment Law

TayScreen 10 – From Script to Screen

I am delighted to be involved in an exciting event organised by TayScreen on Thursday 29 November.  TayScreen facilitates and promotes media, film and TV projects throughout Tayside and Fife, and the event forms part of its 10th anniversary celebrations.

Joining speakers from across the sector, I will be considering how intellectual property law impacts on the creative industries.

Event Details

TayScreen 10 – From Script to Screen

Date: Thursday 29th November
Time: 10am-5pm. Networking drinks 5pm-6pm. Lunch and refreshments provided.
Venue: Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (www.dca.org.uk)

The event is free but places are limited.  Please click on the following link for more information and to book your place – http://www.tayscreen.com/opportunity-detail.cfm?opportunity_ID=61.

Kirk Dailly
Associate
Business – Corporate and Commercial Law

Flexible Parenting – More Reforms

On 6 April 2010 the government introduced the Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010 with the intention of providing greater flexibility in parental leave.  These Regulations had the intention of allowing fathers to be more involved in parenting during the first year of a child’s life.

On 13 November 2012, the government announced further proposed reforms to the current system of maternity and paternity leave.  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suggested that the proposed “radical reforms” to the current “antiquated” system of parenting leave will become law next year and will likely take effect in 2015.

Under the proposals, mothers in employment would still be able to take the current maximum of 12 months’ maternity leave if they want.  However the proposals provide for allowing parents to share the period of leave in a more flexible manner with the possibility of mixing and matching leave.  Mothers will have to take a minimum of two weeks’ leave after childbirth for recovery purposes.  Aside from that parents could pick and choose how they take leave so long as the combined amount of leave did not exceed 12 months.  It would also be possible for mothers and fathers to take time off together.  For example, they could both take off the first 6 months after childbirth which would allow for the total allowance of 12 months.  No more than 9 months of the total leave period will be guaranteed with pay as is currently the case.

Mr Clegg suggested that the changes will “shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers”.  It is also hoped that the proposed changes will benefit employers in providing a “more flexible and motivated workforce”.

The government intend to consult next year on how the new system will be administered.  The proposals also provide for fathers to be permitted periods of unpaid leave for the purposes of antenatal appointments and the government intends to revisit the statutory period of paternity leave (currently two weeks) in 2018.

Finally, the proposals also provide for a shake-up of flexible working arrangements by extending the right to request flexible working to all employees (as opposed to just parents and carers).  The current statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests will be removed with the effect that employers will have to consider all requests in a reasonable manner.  The changes to flexible working are intended to be implemented in 2014.

Jack Boyle
Solicitor
Business – Employment Law   

Tenancy Deposit Schemes

Recently the private rental sector in Scotland has undergone a significant change in the way tenants deposits are handled, as the Tenancy Deposits Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 2011 have come into force.  Landlords and agents are now obliged to transfer the deposit to a licensed operator, who is to hold the deposit securely and assist in resolving any disputes between landlord and tenant regarding the deposit.  All deposits taken from 2 October 2012 must be placed with a licensed operator within 30 days of the tenancy starting. For any deposits taken before 2 October 2012 landlords and agents have until 13 November 2012 to transfer the funds to a licensed operator. For those found to not comply on application to the Court by a tenant the landlord will be ordered to pay the tenant an amount to three times the value of the deposit monies. For more information contact our Rural and Commercial Land Team.

Kyle Moir
Senior Solicitor
Business – Rural & Commercial Land