Despite the recession and the fact that many employers will be cutting back on what they can afford to treat their employees to this season it is nevertheless the Season to be Jolly – but employees whose festive cheer goes overboard at the Christmas party can land their employers in the soup!
The perils of the office party extend to more than imbibing employees telling the boss how much they dislike him, his dress sense, or those illicit romances in the stationery cupboard.
Genuine issues that can cause real problems can arise at these events, when guards are down as well as hair.
One of Scotland’s leading employment lawyers has suggested employers take a few precautionary steps to ensure they don’t find the office Christmas party leads to an unwelcome start to the New Year.
Dawn Dickson, Partner at Lindsays, said: “I certainly don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but following a few tips should avoid problems at the Christmas bash. I am certainly not out to prevent anyone enjoying their Christmas party. Hardworking employers and employees deserve a little fun and with a bit of forward-planning the risk of starting the New Year facing Tribunal claims can be significantly minimised.”
Beware the demon drink!
To prevent employees indulging in too much Christmas cheer employers should remind them beforehand that a hangover is not a valid reason for being absent from work and that disciplinary action will be considered for employees who take the day off to recover without prior permission. Employers can also take preventative measures by providing soft drinks and food at the do to minimise the effects of the alcohol.
On the other hand if an employee comes in to work and is still under the influence of alcohol it may not be sensible to have them at work. In that case, you may wish to consider sending the employee home on sickness absence until they are able to work or suggest that they take a day’s holiday.
The Christmas party is likely to be found by a Tribunal to be an extension of the work place. This means that the blame for any discriminatory act which takes place at the party may be laid at the door of the employer. For example, if an employee makes abusive remarks about a fellow employee being gay, the upset employee could sue his employer. Similarly, if the office Casanova gets carried away at the party and steps over the line with another member of staff, the employer could face a claim of sexual discrimination or harassment. The best way to avoid these types of problems is to have comprehensive policies already in place. Anti-discrimination policies and disciplinary procedures should be re-iterated before the Christmas do. Following recent changes in the law, employers should ensure that those policies deal with discrimination by association and perception. Using the example above of abusive remarks being made about a fellow employee being gay, if the employee in question was not actually gay, they could still bring a claim.
Employers should also consider whether they are alienating employees from the festive celebrations. Employees may not drink alcohol for religious or other reasons and consideration should be given to their beliefs and needs. In the same way, employers should make arrangements to make sure that disabled employees can get to and enjoy the party by making reasonable adjustments.
Promises and Bonuses
Some employers think that just because there is nothing in their employer’s contracts of employment to entitle them to a Christmas bonus, then it’s entirely discretionary. This is wrong. If an employee can show that an expectation has been built up because the employer has paid a Christmas bonus in previous years, the employee may be entitled to such a bonus on the basis of custom and practice. If an employer can’t afford to pay a bonus in a particular year, he should warn employees in advance, give them reasons for the non-payment and consider paying a portion of the bonus or rewarding staff in some other way.
Promises made at Christmas parties are another bone of contention. Employers can take a degree of comfort from a case which held that an employer who promised an employee a considerable pay rise at a “sociable and convivial office event” was not liable to honour the promise because the words of “comfort and assurance” were too vague. However, every case is taken on its merits – employers should certainly take care when comforting and assuring staff at the Christmas party!
For further information please contact David Forsyth at Benchmark PR on 07887 955 778.