The Christmas Party is an Extension of the Workplace!
Dare I be the first to say it… go on then…’Christmas is only two weeks away…’ I’m pretty sure I’ve been beaten to it. It gets earlier and earlier every year! At this rate we’ll all be sat on the beach in August listening to “Good King Wenceslas” watching the children riding reindeer with bells on. There’s no denying though that Christmas and the festive season is a great time for fun and festive cheer which induces, amongst employees, a feeling of excitement and wonderment as to what drama the forthcoming and long awaited Office Christmas Party will bring.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, I am confident that every one of you reading this article can well imagine the scenario of the aggrieved and underpaid office clerk barracking the boss and venting at full throttle their fury in the bar area of the party venue, whilst, at the same time, throwing peanuts at the cashier who happens to be sat comfortably in the corner, canoodling with the new office junior.
Here are a few sobering thoughts …
It is wrong to insist that all staff attend the Christmas party. Christmas is a Christian holiday – so do not pressure someone to attend if they decline the invitation on grounds relative to their own religion or belief. Similarly, in these times of austerity, there may be staff members with other pressing financial priorities. To coerce staff into attending could lead to a claim for discrimination.
Generous employers minded to provide free drink or put the credit card behind the bar, be warned! In one historical case, three employees in a company were partaking in light libations and proceeded to have a fight. The fight followed a team building seminar. They successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A pertinent factor being that the employer had provided a free bar – and thus condoned their behavior.
Staff policies on bullying, harassment and discrimination still apply at the office party.
This is one reason why mistletoe is dangerous. A survey once found that, whilst 80% of women would laugh off a pass made by a male co-worker, boss or client, 13% would lodge a complaint. An extreme example involved a man telling a female colleague that she “needed a good man”, adding that he would quite like to ‘have relations with her’ (or words similar). At the Christmas party, the man pulled her dress down and made disparaging comments. A claim of sexual harassment succeeded and an award of £10,000 was made for injury to feelings.
Employers can also find that they end up taking responsibility for unwanted advances between co-workers, if the employment tribunal forms the view that the behaviour is evidence of a culture of victimisation or harassment.
Alcohol makes people loose-lipped. Employers should consciously avoid falling into the trap of conducting a staff performance review during the office party! In one case, an employee claimed his boss had indicated that a higher salary would be forthcoming. He qualified this statement with the words “in due course”. Of course, his pay stayed the same and so the employee promptly tendered his resignation and filed a claim for constructive dismissal. The employer won the case but only because the nature of the promise was vague. The Employer had a lucky escape: a promise is still a promise regardless of where it is made.
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Harold Stock & Co Solicitors wish a very Merry and Happy Christmas to all of our clients and a Prosperous New Year!
The article was written by James O’Donnell, Commercial Solicitor and Director, Harold Stock & Co Solicitors.