The 12 days of Christmas – The Christmas Party extravaganza
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Christmas Party gave to me twelve articles of bad publicity, eleven thousand pounds worth of legal fees, ten lost customers, nine protected characteristics, eight potential witnesses, seven ladies quitting, six guys a-lying, five collective actions, four derogatory Facebook posts, three written grievances, two conflicting stories and a sexual harassment claim from an employee.
For a lot of employers a Christmas Party can be a very stressful time. The threat of inappropriate behaviour and disruption to the status quo can mean that many employers may not be willing to hold a Christmas party for their employees. Whilst it is important to consider the potential problems which can arise from a Christmas Party, there are also many positives for employers to consider.
A Christmas Party can be a really useful tool for employers to reward their employees for hard work leading up to the Christmas period. It can also promote employee bonding and help boost morale. Christmas Parties are also a great motivator to retain employees, if you are generous in rewarding your employees they are more likely to stay in employment and work hard in the year to come.
More subtly, a Christmas Party is a good way to reiterate the employer's values, have discussions for the future and make key announcements whilst all employees are in the same place.
The only way to effectively deal with this is to be open with your employees about how they should behave at the Christmas Party. Employers should work to inform their employees that in a worst case scenario events at the Christmas Party can be used as evidence in Disciplinary Proceedings and that behaviour at the Christmas Party should be a reflection of behaviour in the workplace.
Employees should be reminded that the following behaviours are not acceptable:
- Discriminatory behaviour
- Inappropriate jokes
- Derogatory posts on social media.
Christmas Parties should be a time where colleagues can get together and celebrate the previous year but it is important for both employees and employers to bear in mind the risks of inappropriate behaviour.
The recent High Court case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited attempted to clarify the grey area surrounding when an employer could be vicariously liable for the actions of an employee. The events of Bellman took place after the Christmas party of Northampton Recruitment Limited in December 2011. After the party had finished around half of the guests took a taxi back to a hotel where most of them were staying. The taxis were paid for by the Company. Once back at the hotel, the managing Director of the Company, Mr Major, attacked one of his employees and lifetime friends, Mr Bellman. The attack consisted of two punches to Mr Bellman's head, with the second punch causing Mr Bellman to fall to the ground and hit his head. The injury caused him incurable brain damage. The attack was not in dispute in this case. Instead, the Employment Judges had to decide whether or not the Company, Northampton Recruitment Limited, were vicariously liable for Mr Major's actions.
The Judge ruled that the spontaneous drinks at the Hotel, after the Christmas Party had finished, were not an extension of the work-orientated Party. There were many reasons for this. This was not a planned extension of the party, nor was the conversation at the Hotel solely work related. The employees were drinking with guest of the Hotel as well as each other. The Judge relied heavily on whether the employment relationship put Mr Bellman and the other employees at an increased risk at the material time. Alcohol and aggressive behaviour were very large factors in the decision on this. It was held by the Judge that alcohol can be safely enjoyed and that aggression was not a factor at the Christmas Party location and therefore could not associated with the working relationship. It was therefore ruled that the Company were not vicariously liable for the Managing Directors actions.
However as a general rule for all employees, if you wouldn't do it at work, don't do it at your Christmas Party!
If you need any further help or guidance in relation to employee's behaviour at Christmas Parties please call our business employment solicitors on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'make an enquiry'.
For more information on Employment Law for Individuals please see our Employment Law page.