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Trouble Free Christmas Parties

Napthens - December 16th 2011

It is Christmas party time again and employers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and ensure they take practical steps to avoid them.

Employment laws still apply during social events even when the party takes place outside of working hours and off-site. Employers are therefore likely to be vicariously liable for acts of harassment, discrimination or assault carried out by their employees. Drink fuelled behaviour is the root cause of many tribunal claims each year and employers need to remind staff what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and the consequences of such behaviour.

Limiting the amount of alcohol available at Christmas parties, providing non-alcoholic options and supplying food can all help minimise risks. In one case before the tribunal, three employees got drunk and had a fight after seven hours of drinking at a free bar supplied by their employer. They successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was that the employer had provided a free bar – and therefore condoned their behaviour. 

In addition, managers who are under the influence of alcohol should avoid conversations about performance, promotion or salary prospects. In one case an employee claimed his boss had promised him a higher salary "in due course" during a chat at the Christmas party. His pay remained the same so he resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal. The employer won the case but only because the nature of the promise was too vague and uncertain. It was a lucky escape: a promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise - even if the employer cannot remember the conversation!