It is unfortunate sign of the times when employers do not hold Christmas parties because of the cost and risk of receiving legal claims from employees. However, it does not have to be the case that potential legal claims should deter employers from holding parties. The following guidelines set out a few tips which will reduce the risk of claims.
Fighting and threatening behaviour
Discrimination legislation provides that anything done by an employee in the course of employment must also be treated as done by the employer. Work events such as Christmas parties have been held by tribunals to be within the course of employment. Therefore, should employees engage in fighting, threatening behaviour or sexual harassment this can give rise to claims against the employer.
However, as long as an employer can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour then an employer will not be liable. Therefore, we recommend that employers make sure that their bullying and harassment, equal opportunities and disciplinary policies are all up to date. We also recommend reminding employees prior to the party (via email or on the invite) that the employment policies which apply during work still apply during the party.
Accidents and injuries
Should an employee have an accident during the Christmas party, this could well give rise to a personal injury claim against their employer.
However, if an employer assesses the risk of accidents and injuries prior to the event, this will help defend a claim should the worst happen. If risks are identified then an employer should think about steps they can take to reduce these risks. For example, a manager could be designated to not drink any alcohol and to keep a look out for any unacceptable/ dangerous behaviour.
Non-attendance for work or lateness the day after the Christmas party will no doubt attract suspicion. Whilst an employer may have strong suspicions that a hangover is the real reason for the absence/lateness from the employee, evidence and not just a suspicion will be required in order to fairly issue the employee with a disciplinary sanction. Equally, if hangovers are a problem for a business, we recommend making clear to staff in advance of the party that disciplinary action will be taken against any employee who turns up late the day after and there is reason to believe that the non-attendance/lateness is due to the over-consumption of alcohol.