Work Christmas Party (what to be aware of)

‘Tis the season for parties and celebration – and, for many, this includes a work-organised Christmas event.

A work Christmas event is something that many employees look forward to and is a great way to celebrate the end of the year with colleagues and keep morale up in the often busy run up to Christmas.

However, it can also lead to potential employment issues.

“At work”

First and foremost, it is crucial that all employees are aware that as a social event organised by their employer, it is an extension of the workplace.

Therefore, employees are still representing the business.

Any untoward behaviour may be investigated by the employer and have serious consequences including disciplinary action or even dismissal if deemed serious enough – the same way that it would be had it happened during the working day. It is best practice for employers to remind their employees beforehand that the party is an extension of the workplace and they are representing the business. As an employer, you will be in a stronger position if you have done this to prevent any potential negative behaviour.

Potential problems

It is most likely that any Christmas party or event will involve alcohol! This does raise a couple of potential issues to be aware.

  • Be prepared and considerate of those employees who do not drink, whether for personal or religious reasons, and ensure suitable alternatives are provided.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption can result in inappropriate behaviour both towards other colleagues and third parties – this could be a serious concern. Perhaps try to monitor things as best as possible and if necessary step in before things can get out of hand.
  • Beforehand, relay to employees that they are still at work, to keep all banter friendly and not to use this opportunity to discuss work related matters with other colleagues or managers! It is not appropriate or professional and could definitely make matters worse.
  • Also, if possible, have the party or event finish before public transport finishes for the day. This reduces the risks of staff driving home over the limit. Alternatively, provide transport for those who need it

Social media

Social media is now a huge part of our lives and is likely to play some sort of role in any Christmas party or event.

If as an employer you already have a social media policy in place, then great – make sure you remind employees of it and that it still applies during the party.

If you do not have one in place, just set out some clear ground rules for employees so they know what use, if any, of social media platforms is acceptable during and after the party. Elements of this to look out for would be sharing unauthorised photographs, making comments on social media about colleagues or third parties, making derogatory comments about the business itself or even the place where the event is being held.

Communication is key to ensure these risks can be eliminated beforehand.

Recent case law example

A recent case which highlights these issues involved a recruitment company for HGV drivers whose managing director punched one of the firm’s salesmen on a Christmas night out!

A claim was brought against the company arguing that they were “vicariously liable” for the actions of the managing director.

The incident occurred after the company’s Christmas party. After the party had ended, half the guests went onto a second location which was not a pre-planned extension to the party and they continued to drink until 3am when the assault took place.  Discussions took place between the employees and the director about pay and working locations, things got heated and this is when the assault took place. It was an extremely serious assault with witnesses fearing the employee dead.

The Claimant argued the assault was in the course of and closely connected to employment. However, the court ruled that there was “insufficient connection” between the director’s employment and the assault for the employer to be held liable. Interestingly, an initial judge who heard the case took the view that if the incident had occurred during the Christmas party itself then the company may have been liable.

At Appeal stage, this was overturned and they found in the Claimant’s favour. They concluded that, despite the time and place of assault, Mr Major was purporting to act as Managing Director of the company at the time and so was liable. It is an interesting and important distinction and shows that despite the ‘after party’ not being organised by the employer, the employer must still be aware that they may be held to be responsible for what occurs.

This is an extreme example but issues do commonly arise after work events so without taking all the fun out of the event (!) both employees and employers should be mindful of potential issues.

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Note: The original version of this article appeared on the Moray Employment Law website in December 2018.