Avoid Christmas party blues – ensure staff understand behaviour standards

News Article

With the Christmas party season already in full swing, now is a good time to ensure all staff – directors and workers alike – understand what constitutes reasonable behaviour standards at office functions.

Claims for harassment, assault and gross misconduct are a sad result of an evening out which begins well, but ends with someone crossing the line – leading to unfortunate consequences for those involved.

Lara Murray, an employment law expert with Palmers, said: “Christmas is the perfect opportunity for employers to show their appreciation of staff and clients alike by holding office functions.

“Whilst the vast majority of these pass off with few problems, simmering office tensions, often fuelled by alcohol, can boil over and lead to inappropriate comments or full scale fights erupting.”

Recently a High Court ruled that a company was not in fact liable for injuries sustained by a manager who was assaulted by a director following their work Christmas party.

The incident took place in December 2011, when a group of staff decided to continue the festive celebrations at a different venue after their official office party had ended. The manager sustained a serious brain injury as a result of the assault and had sought compensation from his employer and their insurer.

The judge ruled that in this particular case, although workplace issues were the cause of the heated argument between the manager and director, a line could be drawn between the office party and the ‘impromptu drinks’, which, in his view, did not occur during the course of the employment.

The judge warned that the company could have been liable if the blow had been struck during the Christmas party itself but as the assault occurred in a hotel during a private drinking session after the official party had ended, the company was not ‘vicariously liable’.

Lara continued: “This recent case does provide a clear warning regarding employers’ liabilities when organising office functions. Although no employer wishes to appear Scrooge-like, particularly at Christmas, a well worded email to staff in advance of the party will remind them of their obligations and expected standards of behaviour so that everyone still has a good time, without the risk of waking up the following morning to a potential lawsuit.”

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