Back in 1984, Band Aid sang “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
In my view, the title of this song identifies another important employment law principle which is relevant to the office Christmas party.
It is established in law that an office event which takes place outwith the office environment and outwith office time can still be deemed an “extension of the work place”. This effectively means that employees can be disciplined for unacceptable behaviour at the office party and, more worryingly, employers can be held liable for their employees’ actions at that party.
If a drunken employee were to harass a colleague at the office Christmas party, the employer could potentially be vicariously liable for any claim of sexual harassment from the colleague. This principle permits that colleague to raise a claim of sexual harassment against both the drunken employee and the vicariously-liable employer, if the event took place during this office party.
For this reason it is important for employers to set out to employees, prior to the party, the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Employers should provide clear written guidance to all employees reminding them of any discrimination, bullying or harassment policies which will still have effect at the office party. Employers would also be well advised to remind employees that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, inappropriate behaviour and sexist or racist remarks will not be tolerated.
These actions should hopefully make Joe Bloggs think twice before downing his thirteenth Jagerbomb and making his move on the HR manager. Alternatively, if he does make that unwanted drunken advance at the party, the employer’s prior warning makes it easier for the employer to take disciplinary action against Joe Bloggs on the Monday morning.
Employers should definitely make sure employees know it’s Christmas (subject to the caveats above!).Simon Allison Partner – Employment Law