Employers are responsible for the behaviour of their staff – even at the Christmas party. And firms could face expensive compensation claims if employees’ behaviour gets out of hand.
The warning comes from James Wilders, an employment law partner at national law firm Dickinson Dees.
“Employers often find themselves experiencing a costly hangover when employees’ behaviour at parties gets out of hand,” says Wilders.
“However, it is relatively straightforward for employers to protect themselves – for instance, they should issue clear guidelines to staff outlining expectations in behaviour before the event.
"Because of the wide-ranging employment rights laws, whose number and scope increases every year, liability can arise in an increasing number of ways. For instance, unwelcome advances by one of the people towards a colleague could lead to a sexual harassment claim. Clear instructions on standards of behaviour are the best defence for employers, particularly if communicated well in advance. Racist and sexist jokes are also dangerous."
Alcohol increases the risk of behaviour some office workers find objectionable, with inappropriate sexual advances and comments regarded as racist or sexist more likely. Employers should also make sure their workers get home safely, especially if they have drunk too much. Finally, employers cannot set specific rules about taking sickies the next day.
“Regrettably for employers, they are unable to set rules against this, as it would be difficult to discern between true illness and a banging hangover. Make it clear well in advance that all employees are expected at work the next day, and consider how long the bar stays open. If you let people drink until 1am, you only have yourself to blame if most don’t show up the next day.”
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