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The unintended aftermath of the office Christmas party

View profile for Martha McKinley
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The unintended aftermath of the office Christmas party

The employment tribunal has long grappled with the issue of whether unwanted or unlawful conduct by an employee outside the physical workplace can lead to a successful claim being brought against an employer.

Generally speaking, discriminatory conduct “in the course” of employment is likely to result in an award being made against a company unless it is able to show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the acts in question.

This issue tends to raise its head in the festive season when many companies arrange events for staff, at which behaviour can get out of hand. If alcohol is flowing freely, allegations of discrimination or violence may not be far behind.

If the circumstances in which the act occurs are deemed to be an extension of the workplace, than a company may be liable, however in reality this often involves a fine line being drawn between various activities. Employers may be unaware that, for example, case law has indicated that conduct which took place in a hotel at a Christmas party, in a car after a festive work gathering and even walking home with colleagues after office drinks, can amount to acts made in the course of employment.

As we now live in a digital age, inappropriate contact by mobile phone or the internet from one colleague to another may be another unintended consequence following the office Christmas party. Depending on the manner in which the victim’s details were obtained, and how the unwanted contact was made, vicarious liability on the part of an employer cannot be ruled out.  While disputes on this specific area have yet to make their way to the courts, employers should be careful to clearly outline the parameters of unacceptable conduct for all staff prior to these events. Any communications reminding employees of their obligations and responsibilities to their colleagues can only be helpful in the event a claim does arise.

If an employee does bring a claim against you call our employment law team on 0175 321 6399.

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