Employers: Beware of post-Christmas party employment claims

It’s that time of year again: Christmas party season is upon us. There are celebrations to get on with and fun to be had. It may not be a bad time thought to reflect on where boundaries lie to ensure that post party there is no workplace disharmony.

The three months after the Christmas period (the time limit to notify an employment claim) is often a busy time for employment lawyers as issues arise as a result of events during the festive season.

We see claims for harassment usually based on inappropriate touching or comments made or dismissals for gross misconduct, where fights have broken out between employees, or where employees have managed to offend clients or customers who came to the party and damaged an employer’s reputation.

The many high-profile revelations this year of sexual misconduct could mean that harassment will be more readily called out. Things have changed in 2018.

Whilst not wishing to be a kill joy, when it comes to work parties, it is safest to play by the rules. These rules may be highlighted at this time of the year by employers reminding their workforce about expectations around behaviour. They do this to protect their business against claims and staff against harassment.

The fact that the party is outside the office and working hours changes little as employees are still representatives of the company and in legal terms, the party can be taken to be an extension of the workplace.

Employers are expected to have zero tolerance for behaviour which falls short of the standards set out in an equal opportunities policy. This has implications. Whilst an employee may not have intended to harass a colleague or even consider that their actions crossed a line, the employer may not share this view. The legal definition of harassment relates to unwanted conduct which upsets, humiliates and leaves a person feeling violated. That could vary from person to person. Running the risk of testing that boundary is not wise. Especially when claims can be brought not only against companies but also the individual who is alleged to have done the harassment.

Wishing you a happy Christmas with peace and harmony back at work in 2019.

About the author

Rhian Radia, head of employment law at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen.

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