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Employers: Beware of post-Christmas party employment claims

Posted on: 5th December 2017

It’s that time of year again: Christmas party season is nearly upon us, but employers should be aware that a hangover may not be all that they are left with once the party is over.

Rhian Radia, head of employment law says that the three months after the Christmas period (the time limit to notify an employment claim) is often a busy time for employment lawyers as issues arise as a result of events during the festive season.

“The majority of claims that we see are for harassment and are usually based on inappropriate touching or comments made. We have also advised on dismissals for gross misconduct, where fights have broken out between employees, or where employees have managed to offend clients or customers who came to the party and damaged an employer’s reputation,” she says.

Rhian goes on to say that; “The many high profile revelations this year of sexual misconduct could mean that harassment will be more readily called out. This highlights the importance for companies of making expectations of behaviour very clear to employees and to take quick action if needed.”

Rhian explains that employers can often avoid such issues if clear guidelines are issued. She explains: “Companies need to be clear with employees about expectations around behaviour. By doing this they will help to protect their business and their staff.

“Often, a light-hearted but carefully-worded email to staff on the day of the party can sometimes be all that is needed to ensure employees have fun and stay on the right side of employment law.”

Rhian says the email should:

  1. Remind staff that while the event is fun and outside work hours, employees are still representatives of the company and need to bear this in mind. In legal terms, the party can be taken to be an extension of the workplace and behaviour needs to reflect this.
  2. Be clear about what time the party starts and ends, and if there is a free bar, the time that this will close.
  3. Advise of nearest transport links or provide details of a local licensed cab firm so that employees can plan how they will get home.
  4. Advise of any clients or customers who are attending the event and the importance of their business to the company.
  5. State what time work starts the next day (if the party is mid-week). For companies that expect staff to be in at the usual time, a reminder about this should be circulated with a suggestion about taking unused annual leave if a lie in after the Christmas party is planned.

In cases where there is cause for an employee to have grounds for a complaint following a work event, Rhian advises: “It is important for companies to ensure that they have robust HR policies in place. Employers are expected to have zero tolerance for behaviour which falls short of the standards set out in an equal opportunities policy. On that subject, where is the policy?”

ENDS

For further information, please contact Lizzie Hannaway on 020 3567 1208 or at lizzie.hannaway@blacklettercommunications.co.uk.

Notes for Editors

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