Insights 14.12.18

The festive season in the workplace

Insights 14.12.2018

Do you understand your HR liabilities during the festive period?

The annual Christmas party and other seasonal initiatives are excellent opportunities for employers to reinforce the Company culture and values,whilst boosting morale in the workplace. Unfortunately there are the inevitable HR considerations to think about, who does the buck stop with outside of the office and is it harmless fun or a case of misconduct?

Here we briefly consider the business of vicarious liability in the employment context and key actions to keep the joy during the festive season.

Vicarious liability – bah humbug

Vicarious liability generally refers to a situation where a party is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another party.  In the workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts of omissions of its employees, if it can be shown that they took place in the course of employment(including, bullying, harassment, discrimination and injury related claims).  This is never a straight forward matter, however, in the case of Bellman V Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the Christmas party taking place outside normal working hours and away from the workplace was deemed to be in the scope of a work-related event (within the course of employment). In this case the misconduct incident took place after the main party (Mr Bellman was assaulted by the Managing Director at the after party event) and the Court of Appeal held that there was sufficient connection to render the employer vicariously liable.

The general consensus from various commentators is that employers should work under the assumption that the office Christmas party falls within the course of employment and should be considered an extension of the workplace.  With this in mind, employers will leave themselves vulnerable if they do not undertake consistent disciplinary measures to manage comparable misconduct issues during work social events, as would be the case within the normal working environment and working hours. 

Practical steps to reduce risk

The Employment Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimization carried out in their employment, unless they can show they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts.  Without wishing to take away the fun, it is important to ensure that employees are clear on the rules, policies and procedures on first and foremost, equal opportunities, conduct, alcohol consumption, harassment, bullying in the workplace and social media policies.  Additionally,a policy on workplace social events is recommended as an easy reference point for all appropriate rules, regulations, values and expectations in place.  Examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior should feature. 

Not just for Christmas

Regardless of the event, there are many other work-related events throughout the year that should be scrutinized under a similar spotlight.  Organised work social gatherings and business development networking events come with the same risks – ensuring that employees are well versed in the organisational policies and procedures will go a long way towards supporting positive behaviour and conduct in environments outside the office space.

How we can help

CBW has vast experience of guiding and implementing robust HR policies and procedures. To learn more about how we can support you, please contact one of our HR consultants.