Christmas Party Season

Is your work place prepared for the Christmas Party season and the challenges that can arise around issues of conduct or discrimination?

Employers have a “duty of care” to their employees and the Equality Act of 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by employees in the course of their employment unless the employer can show that reasonable steps had been taken to prevent such actions. Employment Tribunals have ruled that social events involving employees immediately after work or at an organised function such as a Christmas or leaving party could be considered as within the “course of employment”.

So what steps should employers take to minimise the potential fall out from Christmas festivities. Firstly it is important that a clear policy is in place that deals with conduct in the workplace, giving examples of the type of behaviour that would be deemed to be unacceptable. It would then be advisable to remind employees in advance of a party that it is a work based event and that compliance with the usual standards of conduct is required and the potential consequences of a breach of this policy.

It is sensible for employers to limit the amount of alcohol available and to remind employees of the risks of excessive alcohol consumption and the type of behaviour that could be viewed as harassment. To try to limit excessive drinking it is sensible to provide food and a variety of non alcoholic drinks to provide alternatives for non drinkers and help avoid claims of unlawful discrimination by employees who do not consume alcohol on religious grounds.

Any misconduct, including that resulting from excessive drinking, should be dealt with through the disciplinary procedure. Misbehaving employees should be reminded of the standards of behaviour expected, including towards staff at the venue of the the party and if necessary asked to leave. Thought should also be given to how employees will get home at the end of the party and steps taken to ensure that proper arrangements are made in advance of the party for example – nominated drivers and making sure telephone numbers for local taxi firms are available.

Where employees are late for work on the day following the Christmas party this should be dealt with in the same way as with other issues of time keeping. If the employee does not come in at all and after investigation the explanation is unsatisfactory or due to excessive alcohol consumption then this can be treated as unauthorised absence and dealt with accordingly. Where the contract of employment allows for deduction of wages for unauthorised absence deductions to pay can also be made. If the absence is due to sickness then the usual attendance management policy would apply..

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