As the Christmas party season approaches, Carey Olsen has prompted human resource (HR) professionals to ensure they have a clear work-related social events policy in place and to remind staff about what behaviour will, and will not be, tolerated at work events.
Carey Olsen employment lawyers advocate Elaine Gray and senior associate Rachel Richardson presented the 12 do’s and don’ts of the Christmas party at a breakfast briefing on 4 December.
Advocate Gray said: “Christmas parties are a great way for employers to reward hardworking staff, boost morale and encourage friendships outside of the office. However, they have become infamous for inappropriate behaviour which could lead to disciplinary action or put the company at risk of criminal and civil liability claims.”
The results of the Xpert HR Survey 2011-2012 highlighted that Christmas parties in the UK are on the decline with many HR practitioners concerned over possible employment claims.
“Employers need to have a clear policy in place which sets out the company’s rules and principles in relation to alcohol consumption, drug-taking, harassment and bullying, swearing and bad behaviour and posting inappropriate content on social media sites,” said Advocate Gray.
Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their staff and to provide a safe working environment which is free from bullying – this includes the Christmas party. If employers fail to have adequate protection in place then they may be liable for any incidents that occur.
Ms Richardson said: “Sexual harassment claims are a significant threat for employers as a claim can be brought by an employee at any time, regardless of their length of service.”
Ms Richardson advised: “There is strict statutory vicarious liability under the sex discrimination laws in Guernsey which means that employers will be liable for the actions of their employees regardless of whether the employer approved (or was even aware) of the offending actions”.
“There will, however, be a defence if the employer can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination”, she added.
Advocate Gray said: “Employers could be at risk of discriminatory claims if they do not take into consideration issues such as employees’ sexual orientation, religious beliefs, dietary requirements and dress preferences when planning social events. They should also be doing everything in their power to provide a safe environment which does not offend or alienate staff.”
When planning work-related social events extra consideration should be given to deciding the venue, travel arrangements and the provision of non-alcoholic drinks. Attention should also be paid to who should monitor and deal with inappropriate behaviour if it occurs.
Ms Richardson said: “If a staff member is found acting inappropriately, either at the party or by failing to attend work the next day, employers should take immediate action to address the issue. Typically this could mean suspension for the employee while an investigation is swiftly conducted.”
“Given that the risks of vicarious liability extend to all types of bad behaviour, employers should remind staff of what is, and what is not, expected of them at the Christmas Party prior to the event. By following all of these principles it is hoped that employers and their staff can enjoy the celebrations and look positively to the New Year,” she added.