You may have seen the recent case where a director assaulted a manager after a Christmas party causing serious brain injury.
In that case the company escaped liability because the assault happened during a private drinking session at 3.00am in the morning, well after the Christmas festivities had finished. However, if the director had lashed out at the manager during the party itself, it would have been a very different story.
Another company was less fortunate when one if its senior directors had several drinks too many and tried to encourage a young female employee to go upstairs to his hotel room with him. She repeatedly refused his advances and confided in a colleague who confronted the drunk director, telling him that he was ‘out of order’.
By the end of January both of these employees had been made ‘redundant’.
They claimed that redundancy was a trumped up reason for their dismissal and that the real reason was the fact that the director was embarrassed by his behaviour at the Christmas party. The tribunal panel agreed and the woman was awarded a considerable sum for sex discrimination, some of which was payable by the director personally and the rest by the company. Her colleague also won his claim for unfair dismissal.
These cases are a reminder that companies can be held responsible for improper behaviour at work events, especially where alcohol is flowing freely. Accidents and injuries, as well as sexual conduct, drunken and/or threatening behaviour and drug use may all result in awards against companies – and against individual employees in certain cases.
You can make sure that your Christmas festivities go smoothly, perhaps by having a couple of sober ‘marshals’ around to make sure that things do not get out of hand, that people get home safely in taxis if necessary, and that no inappropriate sexual, racists or otherwise abusive misconduct occurs.
Remember that complaints of this nature made by employees must be taken seriously and investigated, even where very senior personnel are involved.
In the event of a post-party complaint, a sober ‘marshal’ may prove to be a crucial witness to events, potentially saving the company’s money and reputation.