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7 December 2018

What happens when Festive Cheer goes wrong?

We are well into the festive season and maybe some Christmas parties have already been held but my thoughts also turn to employer liability and in particular some recent important case law involving actions occurring at a work-related event, in this case an impromptu after-party following the firm’s actual Christmas party (Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited).

So, what actions should an employer should be considering in relation to any work related event?

This particular event led to a violent altercation in which someone was seriously injured, but I’m sure we’re all aware that such events and the infamous ‘Christmas spirit’ could just as easily lead to inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct. And did you know that any social event organised by the employer is automatically an ‘extension of the workplace’, regardless of the time or place of the event? Health and Safety laws therefore also have a bearing.

Whilst I’m by no means encouraging kill-joy policies, after all Christmas parties are there to thank employees for their work throughout the last year, hopefully improve team spirit and give everyone the opportunity to socialise in an informal environment, it is however a sensible move for an employer to implement some form of policy around conduct at work related events. This should, in my opinion and for the avoidance of doubt, be a separate policy to a general code of conduct or expected behaviours policy, but could be incorporated if necessary.

Having a policy might not prevent an incident from occurring but hopefully it will serve as a reminder to employees about their expected conduct and as guidance for any managers in attendance as to what steps they should take, should the festivities get the better of someone. Employers can be pro-active instead of waiting for the grievance claim or disciplinary investigation to land in the cold harsh light of the morning after!

If your company doesn’t have a robust ‘Code of Conduct’ or a ‘Work Related Social Events’ policy (helping you to steer clear of religious belief issues and ensure you have a policy robust enough to stand up to other work gatherings!), please do get in touch with me for assistance and to ensure your Christmas party is memorable for all the right reasons.

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