Ellie Forsyth, Paralegal in the Employment team at BPE Solicitors, discusses what to consider when deciding whether to go ahead with office Christmas celebrations as well as how to avoid an HR hangover from the actions of employees.
After last year’s lack of Christmas shenanigans (unless of course you worked at Number 10), it’s hardly surprising that employers are keen to make up for it this year. However, with the rising cases of Covid and the discovery of the Omicron variant, is it still wise to be having office parties?
Boris Johnson has advised that parties can still go ahead, but with caution. Employees should be advised to take Lateral Flow Tests before attending (if necessary this can be made a mandatory requirement of attendance), if possible, venues should be large and well ventilated and, of course, kissing under the mistletoe is a big no-no. Employers should understand that many employees may not feel comfortable attending the office Christmas party because of the risks, so it cannot be mandatory to force employees along.
Now that we have established that the party can go ahead, it is important to remember that employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, despite not being on company property as any event organised by an employer is seen as ‘in the course of employment’. Actions within a nightclub can be considered an extension of the ‘workplace’ on the basis that the employee is there on a work event. They would not be there if it wasn’t for the work connection.
In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the Court of Appeal held that there was sufficient connection between a managing director’s job and his drunken assault on a colleague in order for the employer to be vicariously liable, despite the fact the event was not a planned extension of the Christmas party.
If, following a Christmas party, a complaint is made, depending on the nature of the complaint, a proper investigation should be undertaken to determine whether disciplinary proceedings are in order.
Although events such as the one above are not too common, It is still important to remind employees of any conduct matters that will not be tolerated by the business and that any inappropriate behaviour may result in disciplinary proceedings, despite being outside of the four walls of the office. If your business has relevant policies on the matter, it would be a good idea to circulate these before the event. If you do not currently have such policies in place, we strongly advise implementing them so there is a clear message from the company on what is or is not acceptable, to further distance the company from a rogue individual’s actions.
For help and advice on managing office social gatherings or any other employment related matters, please contact Ellie Forsyth at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01242 248446
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