Whilst office Christmas parties can be a great way to reward staff and boost morale, alcohol-induced behaviour can also land employers in the Employment Tribunal.
What might appear to be an employee having a bit of fun or a risqué joke, after a drink or four, could, in fact, give rise to a claim against the employer for sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. This is because employees’ discriminatory acts are treated as having been carried out by the employer if they are done “in the course of employment”.
Behaviour at an office party is likely to be considered be carried out in the course of employment, whether the party takes place in the office or down the pub.
Protection from discrimination is wide ranging and any unfavourable comments or acts connected to the following can be discriminatory: sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage or civil partnership and gender re-assignment.
Employers should be able to successfully defend such actions if staff have acted contrary to the employer’s instructions not to discriminate. A good way for employers to protect themselves is to have an Equal Opportunities policy and to ensure that all staff have been trained on it.
Where an employer has not already taken these steps, or even if it has done so, it should consider reminding staff what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and what the consequences could be if they indulge in it.
If the worse happens and allegations of discrimination are made, they should be fully investigated by employers and disciplinary action should be taken against the accused, if appropriate.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Employment Solicitor, Brindley Twist Tafft & James LPP