How can employers avoid the worst sort of hangover from the Christmas party?

‘Tis the season to be merry, so it’s time for the annual Christmas party; but for many employers it’s often more fraught than fun, as wherever and whenever the event takes place, it’s still an extension of the working environment. 

Whether the party is at a venue or informally in the office after hours, guidelines need to be in place and employers have a duty to safeguard staff welfare, so setting boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour, and highlighting that misconduct will result in the usual disciplinary procedures, needs to be set out before the event.

Alcohol consumption needs to be managed, as employees may become uninhibited after consuming too much alcohol.  Christmas party meltdown was behind a recent case that reached the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), but another big issue for the employer in this case was that the two employees involved in a fracas were given apparently different treatment in the disciplinary procedures that followed.

The EAT decision in the case of MBNA Ltd v Jones involved an employee who was dismissed for punching a colleague at a work event, whereas the colleague was given only a final written warning for sending threatening texts to him after the work event had finished.

Jane Crosby, Hart Brown’s employment expert says: “Although the appeal found for the employers, saying they had acted reasonably in their decision to dismiss Mr Jones, despite the other employee receiving only a warning, the cost and disruption of protracted tribunal hearings is enough to remind companies of the importance of not taking short cuts where violence is involved and to make a thorough investigation.

“Any difference in treatment must be justifiable, have a clear distinction, and should take into account previous conduct and provocation.”

Another Christmas party risk, once tongues are loosened by drink, is sexual harassment and unwanted advances, which could make an employer liable for not providing adequate protection for an employee.  It’s another area that should be covered by a strong policy and clear attitude at management level.

And if there’s a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol in the workplace, managers need to give guidelines on what will be acceptable at the office party or other team get-togethers, particularly if it’s during the working day.

The party also brings in diversity issues, as the workforce may have different cultural or religious beliefs that affect their view on the Christian festival, and no one should be put under pressure to take part in Christmas-related events.

Jane adds: “It may feel like party-pooping to send a set of instructions along with the invitation, but it’s the best way to avoid a lasting hangover that upsets everyone.  Some simple ways to keep things under control include reinforcing the message that it’s an extension of the workplace and that the standard of behaviour expected is just the same as at work.  It’s also worth making this a time to update staff on their equality obligations, to be sure they understand what could constitute harassment and making clear that it is unacceptable.

“It’s a safeguard for the company if you do such training and record that it’s taken place, alongside making sure your disciplinary policies are quite clear about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and making sure they are applied consistently.”

company-holiday-party
Clear guidelines could help to avoid the worst party hangover.

 

 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Jane Crosby

Partner, Dispute Resolution

Jane is an employment and commercial litigation solicitor of more than 15 years' experience. Prior to entering the legal profession, Jane was employed in the...

Partner, Dispute Resolution

Jane Crosby

Jane is an employment and commercial litigation solicitor of more than 15 years' experience.

Prior to entering the legal profession, Jane was employed in the aviation industry. This experience is appreciated by many of Jane's clients who note that she is able to take a commercial and pragmatic approach to any legal issue that they face.

Jane acts for a wide range of individuals and businesses and her areas of specialism include aviation, property related industries and IT. Jane regularly advises on aspects of employment law, such as settlement agreements, employment contracts, policies and procedures, redundancies, equal pay, data protection, issues arising from TUPE and reorganisations, the calculation of holiday pay, bonus and commission payments, disciplinary and grievance issues, dismissal and termination issues, the protection of confidential information and the enforcement of restrictive covenants. Jane gets involved in GDPR training for her clients and she is able to deliver tailored employment law training sessions upon request.

As a commercial litigation lawyer, Jane also deals in shareholder and directors disputes, commercial contract disputes and the enforcement of restrictive covenants.

Jane has been involved in successful high value commercial litigation for clients in the High Courts, she is an accredited mediator and she is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association.

Jane is often asked to write for a number of well known publications, including The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Week and she has been interviewed on BBC Radio 4.

Here is small selection of the feedback that Jane has received:

“Jane, I cannot sincerely thank you enough for your wise counsel and am delighted to have made your acquaintance. If I am blessed with a new position somewhere I will hand over my contract in the first instance to you. Likewise, any of my friends, peers, romans and countrymen wanting advice, I will point them in your direction.”

“Jane, you have been most resilient on my behalf for which I sincerely thank you for all your endeavours. I have a tremendous working relationship with Hart Brown and you have undoubtedly compounded this further."

“I appreciated the clarity of advice given at a stressful time”.

“A sensitive and highly professional approach and efficient work in the interests of the client”.

“Your advice, conduct and assistance have been indeed outstanding and very professional but also – and most importantly – very humane”.

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Hart Brown Solicitors is the trading name of Hart Brown LLP registered in England and Wales No. OC 425835 whose registered office is Resolution House, Riverview, Walnut Tree Close, Guildford, GU1 4UX and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) No. 658593. Members: N Maud, T Pearce, D Knapp, R Campbell and P Grimwood, Partners: J Crosby, L Harrhy, J Jupp, J Lamont, T Mandelli, V McMurtrie, E Moore, S Osborne, S Powell, G Sanders and E Wiggins.

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