The office Christmas party is a time to join in festive merriment with colleagues and to look forward to a relaxing break from work for those who enjoy time off over the Christmas period.
For some however, it is a time to drink excessively, lose all inhibitions, and spend the festive period regretting their embarrassing antics at the office Christmas party comforted only by the false hope that all will have been forgotten by new year.
For some, they go a step too far..
The reason that we highlight this each year is because of "vicarious liability." For the purposes of discrimination legislation, anything done by an employee in the course of employment is treated as having been done by the employer. So an employer will be liable for discrimination or harassment committed by an employee in the course of employment. The employer will not be liable if it can show that it took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act. Some cases have illustrated that the office Christmas party is a particular time at which employer’s should be aware of this.
In the case of Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors and another UKEAT/0108/10, Ms Nixon claimed constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment after other colleagues were "gossiping" about her pregnancy. At a Christmas party, Ms Nixon was seen kissing another employee and then going to a hotel room with him, which is where the gossip stemmed from. Some weeks later, Ms Nixon discovered she was pregnant and informed the managing partner of this. Shortly after this, the HR manager knew of the pregnancy and began speculating with other employees about who the child's father might be. An employment tribunal found that she had been constructively dismissed. The EAT found that it was also sex discrimination, pregnancy-related discrimination, and harassment.
Marsden Rawsthorn TOP TIPS for employers for office Christmas parties:
encourage excessive drinking;
allow under age drinking;
hold the party at the place of work if possible (possible indication of "in the course of employment");
offer potentially binding offers to employees such as pay rises and promotions;
discriminate – E.g. employees who’s religion does not celebrate Christmas.
ensure that all staff are aware of unacceptable and acceptable conduct and policies in place - E.g. Anti-Harassment and Bullying, Disciplinary etc.
ensure that Managers are fully trained on matters such as anti-harassment;
ensure that any grievances are dealt with seriously and consistently in accordance with procedure;
ensure that health and safety requirements are complied with. Also make sure any employees who suffer from a disability are not disadvantaged.
Authorised and Regulated by The Solicitors Regulation Authority. Authority number 591294.
For details of the professional rules governing the conduct of solicitors go to www.sra.org.uk/code-of-conduct.page