We are finally at that time of year where it’s considered socially acceptable to eat lots, drink plenty and be merry!
With companies making plans or hosting their highly anticipated work Christmas parties, giving all employees the opportunity to relax and let their hair down, it is important to remember that there can be consequences for both employers and employees if they misbehave or fail to turn up to work the next day.
As #metoo sexual harassment allegations continue to hit newspaper headlines, it is no surprise that the Christmas Party can cause employers some anxiety.
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination and is defined as unwanted sexual behaviour that violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and creates a hostile or offensive environment. Unfortunately, this type of unwanted behaviour can occur at work Christmas parties.
Employers must take care not to expose themselves to potential claims as they could be found vicariously liable for an employee’s inappropriate behaviour if it falls within the course of employment. Although an employer may try to argue that the work Christmas Party is not in the course of employment, social gatherings outside of work that are attended by numerous employees have been found to fall within that scope. Employers can take small comfort in the knowledge that if they can show all reasonable steps were taken to prevent the sexual harassment from occurring, then they will not be found liable. Of course, this is no easy feat and can be difficult for employers to manage. If employers become aware of sexual harassment taking place, they have a legal and ethical obligation to investigate the allegations thoroughly.
The Government has this week announced plans to develop a new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment in the workplace. This is a welcome step forward.
In an attempt to minimise the risk of sexual harassment taking place, there are a number of practical steps which can be taken, including issuing a statement in advance reminding employees to be on their best behaviour and sending out a copy of the company’s harassment policy. Employers should remain vigilant during social festivities and try and prevent matters materialising or escalating beyond the appropriate boundary. Perhaps removal of any mistletoe may also discourage such behaviour!
If you would like to discuss any of the issues in this article, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Department.
This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.