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An employer’s guide to the office Christmas party

12 November 2019
An employer’s guide to the office Christmas party

As the year comes to an end and the (still surprising) rush of the festive season comes to head there are a few topics, as an employer, you can’t ignore.

Number one on that list. The office Christmas party.

Above all, the office Christmas party should be a time for fun and celebration. To ensure that is the case, here are a few common employer queries.

How to prepare in the lead up to the office Christmas party

In the run-up to the office Christmas party, it is always sensible to familiarise yourself with your Christmas party or work-related social events policy.

There is also the option to issue a statement in advance of the office Christmas party to all staff. Whilst the statement needs to cover important issues and act as a reminder as to what is appropriate, it is important to not detract from the celebrations themselves.

Is an employer responsible for what happens at the office Christmas party?

In summary, yes. Employers can be held liable for discriminatory acts by employees, even if the event is outside of normal working hours or off-site.

It is important, as an employer, to ensure your harassment policy is up to date and is easily accessible (as well as the policies mentioned above).

As an employer, you have a defence to a claim if it can be shown you took reasonable steps to prevent the employee from performing any such act.

Coming to work late or not at all the day after the office Christmas party

An employer does have the right to make deductions from employees’ pay if they arrive late for work the next day (following the Christmas party). As long as the right to deduct wages, as a result of unauthorised absence, is stated in the employment contract.

However, a level of leniency does come into play here. But remember, it is important not to discriminate against certain employees here and any level of leniency should apply across the business, to all employees.

Cases involving office Christmas party fallouts

Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2019] IRLR 66 CA
An appeal against a finding that the Respondent company was not vicariously liable for the conduct of its managing director.

Gimson v Display By Design Ltd.
The employer was found to have fairly dismissed an employee for a brawl after the end of a Christmas party.

Westlake v ZSL London Zoo
Two zookeepers got into a fight at the Christmas party as a result of which Ms Westlake was dismissed and the other zookeeper, Ms Sanders, was issued with a final written warning.

Given the lack of clear evidence as to who started the fight, the employment tribunal found Ms Westlake’s dismissal to be unfair.

The tribunal observed that the employer could have legitimately dismissed them both, or issued both with final written warnings.

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