Whilst most people look forward to the Christmas party, those responsible for managing staff can sometimes be a little wary. If behaviour does get out of hand, no matter how good the party was, it is likely it will just be remembered for the unfortunate events.
In the cold light of day away from the tinsel and fun of a party, employers can be held liable for acts of discrimination including harassment by employees. This includes at work and work-related events.
The case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd shows how an employer can be vicariously liable for an injury caused at an impromptu work after-party. In this case the MD arranged transport to take staff to a hotel to continue drinking. An argument broke out and the MD gave a lecture regarding his authority. When Bellman questioned his decisions he was punched by the MD which caused traumatic brain damage.
The incident dates back to a Christmas Party in 2011 and in October this year the Court of Appeal ruled that the company was vicariously liable.
In coming to this conclusion, the courts looked at the nature of the employee’s job and the connection between this and the incident. This was a ‘follow on’ to the official party rather than a separate event and the company paid for taxis and drinks. The MD was the most senior employee, the misconduct was triggered by a challenge to his managerial authority and the situation had been fuelled by alcohol.
Employers should take steps to avoid potential problem and it is always useful to set some ground rules regarding behaviour at office parties and outline what is and what is not acceptable as well as what action could be taken when things go awry. Policies should include work-related events and ensure that everyone is aware of behaviour which could be regarded as discriminatory or harassment. It can also be useful to monitor behaviour and any excessive alcohol should be addressed.
If you would like further information on this or other HR issues, contact Sheila Watson on 01429 857082.