Merseyside employment law solicitor Lindsey Knowles explains how a recent case demonstrated the legal pitfalls of the annual office party for employers
In the next few weeks the Christmas party season will get into full swing and work colleagues across Merseyside will be making merry.
And a local employment lawyer is warning that companies could find themselves on the legal hook such anything untoward happen at the annual celebration – even if it doesn’t take place on the work premises.
Lindsey Knowles, employment law solicitor at Kirwans, has issued her warning following a recent case which saw the Court of Appeal rule that a recruitment company was liable after its managing director punched an employee, causing brain damage, during the works Christmas night out.
Ms Knowles is urging employers to set out strict recommendations in relation to the office party, in an attempt to avoid altercations occurring that could lead to potential claims against the business.
She said: “In the run-up to Christmas, most people look forward to enjoying a drink with colleagues and celebrating the festive season.
“Often though, alcohol and work can prove an unhealthy mix, and a booze-fuelled party can easily lead to personal injury, sexual harassment or discrimination by members of their staff for which the employer can be held responsible – or vicariously liable.’
According to Ms Knowles, however, there is a defence for companies that can prove they took all possible steps to prevent the act from occurring.
She outlines below, along with her colleagues James Barker, personal injury solicitor, and Frank Rogers from Just Motor Law, Kirwans’ motoring arm, the top six ‘dos’ and don’ts’ for creating a Christmas party with no nasty aftershocks:
- Remind staff of appropriate behaviour: This can be done in the form of an email prior to the party, reminding employers that the party’s location is, in essence, an extension of the workplace, so actions that would lead to disciplinary proceedings in the course of a normal working day will do so at the party too. Staff should also be reminded of your social media policy, to avoid numerous photographs of respected professionals in party mode appearing on the internet.
- Ensure the event is not discriminatory: The Christmas party should be all-inclusive – and that includes making sure disabled staff can access all parts of it, there are a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks for teetotallers and that cultural, religious and medical dietary requirements are taken into account. Also remember that not all staff members may celebrate Christmas, so be sensitive to the fact when planning the festivities.
- Control the amount of free alcohol on offer: If an employee becomes injured as a direct result of consuming too much alcohol, there could be implications for the employer in terms of potential claims, so put a limit on what’s on offer, or don’t serve high alcohol spirits.
- Arrange transport home: It’s vital that staff are able to get home safely, so either arrange transport or ensure that licensed taxis are available.
- Communicate your ‘morning after’ policy: Let staff know well in advance of any special working arrangements there might be for the morning after the event – such as coming in late or having the morning off. Make sure they’re aware of what is and isn’t acceptable, and remind them of the importance of being entirely alcohol free before they attempt to drive. Also ensure any employees who had been drinking the night before are not asked to drive for work purposes the following day as, in certain circumstances, the employer can be prosecuted as well as the employee in relation to driving offences committed the morning after the event.
- Conduct a workplace party risk assessment: If the party is being held on works premises, there is a responsibility on the employer to make sure the property is safe for such an event and that the area designated for the party has been risk assessed and is suitable for the purpose.