It's that time of year again. Much is said about Christmas Parties from David Mackie QC in a reported case: “It is not uncommon for there to be honest differences of recollection about what was said, or even done, at a convivial Christmas party” to Phyllis Diller: "What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day."
Here are just a few examples of when courts and tribunals have had to adjudicate on events that happened at Christmas parties:
Squandering the Christmas Party budget. Jabil Circuit Ltd v Richard Flemming is a case originally decided by an Edinburgh employment tribunal and appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in which an employee raised an unsuccessful claim for unfair dismissal after being fired for spending a cash advance intended for a Christmas Party for fifteen on himself and the only other person who turned up.
Promising someone a pay rise, which did not materialise. Judge v Crown Leisure Limited is a case ultimately decided by the Court of Appeal that concerned an employee who raised an unsuccessful constructive dismissal claim, arguing that his employer was in fundamental breach of contract for failing to give him the pay rise he had allegedly promised at the Christmas Party.
Christmas Party gossip into the New Year. Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors is a case where an employee raised a successful claim for pregnancy-related sex discrimination, and harassment, after her employer failed to deal with gossip linking her pregnancy to her behaviour at the Christmas Party when she and her colleague shared a room at the hotel where the Christmas Party was held, at their employer’s expense.
Bad behaviour tolerated on previous occasions. Dixon Stores Group Ltd v Dwan involved employees dismissed for performing an unacceptably lewd act at the Christmas Party who brought successful claims for unfair dismissal because what occurred was no different in spirit from what had happened at previous Christmas parties and their employer’s radical change of attitude towards their behaviour had not been communicated to them.
To help make your Christmas party memorable for the right reasons and avoid making it into next year's e-update, here are some helpful tips:
- Remind staff that work related social functions can be an extension of the workplace and the standard of behaviour expected;
- Train staff on their equality obligations, making them aware that harassment is unacceptable. Make sure you keep a record of the training;
- Ensure your disciplinary policies are clear on what is acceptable and what is not and that they are applied consistently.