Do's and Dont's at the Office Christmas Party

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The festive season is approaching and chances are so is your company’s Christmas party. Even though you may be physically out of the office, normal rules apply. The venue you're at is an extension of the workplace for the purposes of the employment legislation: you are expected to conduct yourself to the usual standards expected of you whilst at work. Sexual harassment has rarely been out of the news of late and the works' Christmas party has the potential of landing you and your workplace in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It is therefore important that any workplace “banter” does not cross the threshold and lands you and your company in hot water.

What is harassment?

Harassment encompasses any unwanted conduct that violates another’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Who can be liable?

Employee perpetrators can be personally sued and held liable for any compensation. The employer is also vicariously liable for the actions of the employee which are carried out in connection with the employment.  As mentioned earlier, it is established law that any misconduct at a works' Christmas party is deemed to be “in connection with the employment.” Employers have a defence if they have taken “reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment from taking place.  This would more than likely involve ensuring all staff are provided with training and as a minimum made aware of its policies.  Liability would then rest solely with the perpetrator.

Points to Note

A one off remark is capable of amounting to harassment.

Intention is not necessary as the focus is usually upon the impact of the unwanted conduct.

Participation by the recipient may be relevant depending upon the circumstances as to a finding of liability or upon the amount of compensation to be awarded.

A failure to object will not in itself be significant.

With this in mind, we’ve thought of a few handy “dos and don’ts”…..

Do relax and have fun- but don’t loosen up to the point where you overstep the mark. Doing this can result in disciplinary action or at worst, dismissal. You might not remember what you said or did but there will be a whole host of people that do;

Don’t be tempted to phone in sick the next day should your party be held on a week night- your employer is still entitled to process the day in accordance with its sickness absence policy, which can result in disciplinary sanctions if appropriate;

Do post your photos on social media the day after the party, but take care as to your choice of caption. Mavis in Accounts might really like that floral number she was wearing, and you could find yourself on the wrong side of the company’s social media policy with the wrong choice of words;

Don’t bring your grievances to the party. If a genuine issue with a colleague does exist, familiarise yourself with the set grievance policy and follow it when you’re back in the office. Even if an event has occurred at the Christmas party, you’re still entitled to report it;

Do remember that if the party continues elsewhere, it may still be clear that you’re from a certain company, so inappropriate behaviour can still be punished on the basis that you were ‘representing’ the firm at the time;

Don’t forget that if you are subject to harassment or other inappropriate behaviour, you are wholly entitled to report it and expect it to be dealt with fully and in a professional manner in accordance with the appropriate policies. Seek legal advice if you are unsure.

Employment tribunals have heard cases arising out of work events, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most Christmas parties will pass without incident but if something does occur, don’t be afraid to speak to an expert.

If you have any queries relating to the content of this article, please speak to Head of Employment Yunus Lunat on 0113 284 5023 or via email at yunus.lunat@isonharrison.co.uk

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