For many businesses, the Christmas party is the most anticipated social event of the year. It’s an opportunity for employers to reward their staff’s hard work and for employees to have some festive fun with their colleagues.
Sometimes, however, employees can quickly get carried away in the excitement of the occasion, making bad decisions and taking actions they regret – and not just by drinking too much and waking up with a sore head. Rather, the worst possible hangover from the Christmas party is an allegation of employee misconduct.
Legally speaking, an employee’s actions at a work social event are generally taken to be in the course of their employment. This means that where one employee is subjected to an act of bullying, harassment or discrimination by another at a work social event, the wrongdoing is addressed as if it had taken place during an ordinary working day. Additionally, in such circumstances, the legal principle of “vicarious liability” frequently operates to make the employer responsible for the employee committing the wrongdoing’s actions.
So, what should employers do? Nobody wants to channel Ebenezer Scrooge and cancel Christmas parties altogether. Instead, B P Collins’ employment team recommends five practical steps to think about:
- Inform employees that workplace appropriate behaviour is expected and of the potential consequences of any unacceptable behaviour;
- Organise the event to be as inclusive as possible for your employees by catering to everyone’s needs. For example, if any employees do not drink alcohol or do not eat certain foods due to their religious beliefs, they should be catered for. Similarly, if an employee has a disability, consider how you can ensure they are not excluded from any organised activities;
- Make it clear that attendance is not mandatory and that no employee should feel pressured to attend if they do not want to. If all of the employees attending the event feel comfortable being there, issues will be less likely to arise;
- Adhere to your policies and procedures in the normal way when dealing with employee misconduct at a work social event; and
- Review your policies and procedures in advance to ensure you understand the approach you need to take in the event of any issues. This also provides you with a good opportunity to check that your policies are generally fit for purpose.
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