As much fun as it may be, the work Christmas party also presents an opportunity for serious legal issues following on from any staff misbehaviour. Tina Chander, employment lawyer at leading UK law firm Wright Hassall warns: “Whilst no-one wants to play the Grinch, alcohol-fuelled staff parties can create many issues for an organisation.

“From an employment law perspective, though the party takes place away from the work premises, there is still a possibility of companies being held accountable for the actions of their staff.

“After a few too many drinks, people may behave in way they never would when sober – the most common offences being harassment and discrimination.  

“Emotions tend to run high when alcohol is involved, and any existing workplace tensions can come to the surface, sparking a physical or verbal brawl between staff members.  

“Such behaviour could lead to claims for potentially unlimited compensation against both the employer and the employee responsible, not to mention the time and effort required by management in dealing with any grievance or issue.

“To lessen the risk of any party-related issues, employers should firstly recognise the potential for problems and;

  • Everyone must be invited, regardless of whether they are ill or on leave – not inviting certain individuals could result in claims of discrimination;
  • When employees can bring partners, do not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and assume all partners will be of the opposite sex;
  • Ensure that you have an equal opportunities/anti-harassment policy in place;
  • Tell employees to enjoy themselves and have a good time, but remind them that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated and could result in disciplinary action;
  • Consider limiting the bar tab. Providing limitless amounts of alcohol to employees, without monitoring who is drinking what is irresponsible, and can increase the likelihood of a serious issue occurring;
  • Consider appointing a senior, responsible employee to stay sober, monitor behaviour and step in if necessary.

Christmas Gifts can come at a great cost…

Given the inevitable gifts and invitations to other organisations’ Christmas festivities it is important for employers to consider their potential liability under the Bribery Act 2010, as failing to prevent bribery in the workplace is strict liability.

Liability arises from both offering and receiving bribes. Reasonable gifts, such as a bottle of wine should not raise too much concern, but any extravagant presents may raise suspicions.

 

About the author: Tina Chander is an associate solicitor in the Employment team at leading Midlands law firm, Wright Hassall and deals with contentious and non-contentious employment law issues. She acts for employers of all sizes from small businesses to large national and international businesses, advising in connection with all aspects of employment tribunal proceedings and appeals.

About the firm: Wright Hassall is a top-ranked firm of solicitors based in Warwickshire, providing legal services including: corporate law; commercial law; litigation and dispute resolution; employment law and property law. The firm also advises on contentious probate, business immigration, debt recovery, employee incentives, information governance, professional negligence and private client matters.

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