‘Tis the season, which means office parties and other work related social events. It can, however, be more than just a hangover that causes employer headaches at this time of year. Employers may be faced with employees who let their hair down and go that one step too far.
A breakdown in relationships between staff, management and clients can be tricky to resolve. With this in mind, Geldards employment team focus on how employers should deal with issues which can arise at this time of year? How do you distinguish between a work related incident and one that is not?
Off the premises
Employees may assume that if an event is being held away from the workplace, the normal rules of behaviour do not apply. That is not the case. It is well established that the fact that misconduct does not take place on an employer’s premises is irrelevant in determining whether it is fair to take disciplinary action against the employee, if the event is organised by the employer. Make sure your employees know what is expected of them in advance, and that everyone knows what standards of behaviour are acceptable.
Inevitably, most issues that arise involve employees becoming more drunk than their employer feels is acceptable and the behaviour that stems from that. Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect employees at an office party to remain sober, in particular, as can be the case, when drinks are being supplied free by the employer. Dismissal for drunkenness alone in this context is unlikely to be fair. If, however, an event is organised for marketing purposes or some other reason where clients and others are present, it is fair for an employer to expect its employees to behave in a certain way and present a certain image. Again, inform your employees in advance of the nature of the event and the behaviour expected of them.
Violence and Fighting
If drunkenness spills over into actual violence, the situation is much more clear cut. Employers are entitled to regard assaults on colleagues – even outside working hours – as a very serious form of misconduct.
Even in these types of cases, however, it is still vital that employers follow proper disciplinary procedures, if they want to avoid successful claims for unfair dismissal. This includes conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, including taking witness statements where appropriate, and holding a fair disciplinary hearing.
If an employee is subjected to behaviour which constitutes harassment at an office party, this may lead to the employer being vicariously liable under the discrimination legislation. A claim can arise even if an event occurs outside the workplace at an office party. Ensure that you have adequate anti-bullying and harassment policies in place, and that employees are aware of them.
Here are a few top tips to help you maintain peace and harmony during this festive period.
- Make sure your employees know what is expected of them in advance, and that everyone knows what standards of behaviour are acceptable.
- If an incident happens, don’t jump to conclusions – remember to follow your disciplinary procedures carefully including conducting a thorough investigation.
- If you don’t want an employee back at work after an incident, consider whether or not you are justified in suspending them.
- Dismissal is more likely to be justified if the incident involves violence or harassment – dismissal for drunkenness alone is unlikely to be fair unless it is in front of clients.
- Get advice – it is far better to spend some time talking through the incident and what to do before taking the decision to dismiss.
Further Information and Legal Advice
If you would like any further advice or to speak to one of lawyers, please contact a member of the Geldards Employment Team.