It’s the start of the year, and probably time to reflect on the year gone by for most companies. If you had any questionable experiences during the festive season, here are some tips to plan for 2017 and employee conduct in general.
The office Christmas party is a tradition of most employers. However, employers should ask themselves whether they are properly prepared, particularly because employers have a duty of care to their employees can be vicariously liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimization carried out by employees in the course of their employment (which would include the office party) unless the employer can show that reasonable steps had been taken to prevent such actions.
Get a policy in place
It is worth outlining to employees in advance what represents acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Staff should be placed on notice that inappropriate behavior, unwanted conduct, etc. will be dealt with in the same way it would as if it took place during normal work hours.
Remind employees about the risk of excessive alcohol consumption
It is sensible for employers to remind employees of the risks of alcohol consumption to excess. Employers should sensibly limit the amount of alcohol given freely; the free bar approach may be seen to be encouraging excessive alcohol consumption.
Employers should also exercise a caring approach with regard to getting employees home safely. Some employers may provide transport, others may simply provide taxi numbers and encourage staff to use them.
Any misconduct that arises at the Christmas party should be dealt with in a timely manner and through the employers’ investigatory and disciplinary procedures. A complaint should never be dismissed as ‘just banter’.
In a very timely recent High Court ruling, Bellman v Northampton Recruitment, it was decided that a company is not vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party had ended.
In this case, after the Christmas party ended, and at a different location, a disagreement between a manager and a director took place. They continued drinking until a serious assault took place at 3.00 a.m., which caused a serious brain injury to the manager. The decision was taken to sue the company. The key question was whether he was acting in the course of his employment when the director struck the manager, so as to make the company vicariously liable.
The Judge determined that if the assault had taken place at the Christmas party itself, the company could have been liable, but because the assault took place after the party and in a different location, during effectively a “private drinking session”, the company was not vicariously liable.
The law provides that employers will be liable for the conduct of their employees where that conduct occurs in the course of their employment and there is sufficient connection between the position the employee was employed in and the wrongful conduct, to make it appropriate for the employer to be held liable.
The advice for employers remains to set clear guidelines as to the conduct expected of employees when attending any functions which are or may be connected to work, and to remember they could be held responsible for improper conduct at work events.
For more information, or assistance on these and other employee related matters, speak to our experienced Employment Law team.