The office Christmas party season is here

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Where an employee makes comments concerning a person’s body parts or style of dress that are intended to be good-natured but are perceived as offensive...

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The office Christmas party season is in full swing and appropriate behaviour is a must!

So, December has arrived and the office Christmas party season is here. Employee behaviours are peppered with great food, good company, drinks, and sometimes illegal substances.

What action can employers take in the circumstances if staff behave inappropriately?

When a member of staff is seemingly drunk at the Christmas party, where the employer has supplied some or all of the alcohol, it may be deemed unreasonable to expect the said employee to remain sober. It may be argued the employer has condoned and/or encouraged the consumption of alcohol, and this may be seen as a legitimate mitigating factor.

However, if you wish to consider dismissing an alcohol-induced employee, you must show that an effective investigation was carried out to substantiate that legitimate business interests were at risk as a result of the drunken behaviour.

Where an employee is caught taking drugs at the Christmas party, an employer may wish to argue that the employee’s actions have brought the business into disrepute and/or the employer’s trust and confidence in the employee have been compromised. Further, the fact that a criminal offence has been committed can also add credence to necessitate disciplinary proceedings, which may result in gross misconduct dismissal.

Employers may be inclined to be wary of their vicarious liability towards members of staff who harass another member of staff. This can be the case even if the harassment takes place outside working hours such as the office Christmas party and can include sexual harassment, which is behaviour of a sexual nature on the grounds of a person’s sex.

Therefore, where an employee makes comments concerning a person’s body parts or style of dress that are intended to be good-natured but are perceived as offensive, this may result in a claim against the employer.

Prevention is better than cure and a hefty employment tribunal payout.

Employers may absolve themselves from liability if they can show they took reasonable and practicable steps to prevent forms of harassment from occurring. This can be done by issuing behaviour guidelines, implementing necessary policies, and warning of the consequences of unacceptable and intolerable behaviour.

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Feel free to contact any one of our employment specialists at Lawgistics, we will be happy to assist you.

Jide-Ofor OkagbueLegal AdvisorRead More by this author

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