What to look out for during the festive season’s celebrations
With the festive season fast approaching and a number of work-related
events planned, a risk management strategy should be employed in advance
to ensure that every precaution is taken against possible accidents or
claims. As you may already know, company events are deemed to be in the
course of employment even if they take place outside of working hours.
Employers are not only responsible for the health and safety of their
staff, but may also be vicariously liable for the conduct of their
employees. We have prepared a short list of do’s and dont’s for managing
the risks associated with work-related events.
Attendance should be optional
Unless the Christmas party is during office hours, it is recommended that attendance should be optional to avoid putting pressure on particular employees with family responsibilities, or other considerations for non-attendance such as religious belief, otherwise you may fall foul of the Equality Act 2010.
Employees should be reminded that the Christmas party is a work-related activity and that general standards of appropriate behaviour should be adopted at all times. To minimise the risk of any issues arising, employees should also be reminded of specific activities that are expressly prohibited by the Employment Manual and that misconduct will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary sanctions. The following should be covered:-
Misuse of drugs: It is a criminal offence for an employer to knowingly permit or even to ignore the use, production or supply of any controlled drugs in the course of employment. Employees should be reminded that any use of prohibited drugs may lead to summary dismissal.
Harassment: Following the case of the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire v Stubbs, employers run the risk of being sued for sexual harassment as office parties are considered to be an ‘extended version of the workplace’. Employees should be warned and a clear message should go out that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
Social media: Employees should be reminded of your social media policy and that it applies to what goes on during the party. Any unacceptable posts on social media may warrant disciplinary sanctions.
Providing food and alcohol
As some employees may be vegetarian or not eat particular types of food due to their religious beliefs, a failure by the employer to enquire about dietary requirements and to provide alternative catering may result in indirect discrimination. The same applies to serving alcohol. Unless alternative non-alcoholic drinks are available, employees may claim that they have been discriminated against.
Dismissing an employee due to the alleged use of alcohol may not always be fair if proper procedure has not been followed. In McElroy v Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, the Claimant was employed as a healthcare assistant. Following reports that he smelt of alcohol, he was summary dismissed. However, there was no evidence of an adverse effect on the employee’s ability to do the job and the employee was not given any previous written warning under the employer’s disciplinary policy. In light of this, the dismissal was found to be unfair.
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees at office functions and therefore it is best to organise transport home, especially if the party finishes late at night. This will minimise the risk of liability arising from a drunk-driving accident following a Christmas party.
Absences the next day
It is somehow expected that some employees will simply not turn up to work after an office party, call in sick or come in late. Whilst the risk of this occurring may be reduced by warning the employees in advance that absences may result in disciplinary action, employers should ensure that any unauthorised absences are dealt with consistently. If you normally turn a blind eye to lateness or unauthorised absence the morning after the Christmas party, you should not use it as a reason to discipline or dismiss a particular employee.
Do not forget to switch off the Christmas lights
Remember that your building insurance may not cover damage caused by untested electrical equipment and as a safety precaution any electrical decorations, such as Christmas lights, should be switched off before leaving the office.