Recently we have seen allegations of abuse from touching a knee to rape in the entertainment and political areas but private companies employers must now know even more that you do have responsibilities. The advent of the #metoo movement means party organisers need to be even more sensitive than before.
There are many horror stories about office parties and their implications for employers, but don’t be afraid of them – providing you take some simple steps beforehand.
Hopefully anyone with responsibility for HR will know the steps they need to take but if you don’t have an in-house HR or a consultant, I have set out some of the basics below:
- Even if your Christmas party is off site and out of working hours, you may still be liable for actions and negligence or abuse by your employees whilst at an office function.
- Try to be inclusive and accommodating to those members of staff who don’t normally celebrate Christmas or drink alcohol
- Without wanting to be a killjoy, you need to remind your employees (ideally in writing) that they are still in ‘work mode’ whilst at the party and any incidents will be dealt with using your standard disciplinary procedures.
- You should emphasise that any incidents of harassment, abuse, violence or excessive drunken behaviour will not be tolerated and the fact that employees may have had something to drink will not be accepted as an excuse.
- You need to remind employees that they should not drink and drive – good advice at any time, but particularly if you are supplying alcohol. You may want to consider laying on transport.
- You should also make it clear that if your employees are bringing partners they will also be expected to behave in an appropriate manner.
- After the party if any of your employees makes a complaint about the behaviour of another employee after the party, you should investigate it in a formal and thorough manner, as you would if it had occurred at work. It should be borne in mind that failure to deal effectively with a complaint of harassment could lead to a claim of sex or race discrimination or even constructive dismissal.
Just remember even if the party is over you can still be liable if when people are continuing to congregate at the bar A recruitment company was liable for the actions of its managing director, who punched an employee at a party outside office hours and left him brain damaged, the Court of Appeal ruled late last week.
The ruling overturns a previous decision by the high court and clarifies that businesses can be held vicariously liable in some circumstances for the actions of their employees even if they take place outside the workplace.
“The distinction between office work parties and impromptu after-parties will not be the deciding factor, If a senior member of staff uses the after-party to assert their authority and assaults someone, vicarious liability is likely to follow.”
So without dampening everyone’s spirits, you just need to ensure that employees and their guests are aware of the limits before the event. Many companies will be using an office function as a ‘thank you’ to staff who have worked hard through what for may have been a difficult year, and if this is the case, a word of thanks would also not be out of place. Enjoy your Christmas party!