15 December, 2010
The festive season is upon us and many employers will be holding a Christmas party.
Although it may take place outside of working hours and away from the normal place of work, the Christmas party is a work event and therefore an employer may be liable for the acts of their employees unless they can show that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent those acts from taking place.
Ways in which employers may avoid liability for the misdemeanours of their employees include ensuring that policies and procedures are put in place in relation to harassment, discrimination and bullying; providing examples of inappropriate behaviour and making it clear that such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action being taken; monitoring the amount of alcohol consumed where possible and making sure that there is a plentiful supply of non-alcoholic drinks; and ensuring that some individuals remain sober to "supervise" the party and nip inappropriate behaviour in the bud.
There is a risk that when alcohol is flowing, some staff may act inappropriately towards colleagues. If any complaints of inappropriate behaviour are made by employees, the employer is under a duty to investigate them fully and to follow an appropriate procedure to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately.
The employer must act quickly and treat any complaints seriously in order to avoid claims for constructive unfair dismissal and/or discrimination.
Employers should ensure that the smoking ban is observed by employees at the party and steps should be taken to avoid the risk of employees drink driving, as an employer may be liable in the event that an employee is involved in a drink-driving related incident following the Christmas party.
It is important that the venue of the party is appropriate. The venue should have disabled access and be suitable for all employees. Employers should also ensure that the venue is acceptable from a health and safety perspective and it may be wise for a risk assessment to be carried out, as employers are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of their employees as far as possible.
The party should be timed to ensure that it is open to all employees, regardless of their religion or family commitments.
If food is to be served, all guests should be catered for and dietary requirements should be accommodated wherever possible.