Making an Employment Claim for an Incident at a Christmas Work Party?Free 20 minutes employment consultation
Although the annual Christmas work party can provide a great opportunity for team bonding, work parties can sometimes get out of hand. These events used to take place mainly in the office or workplace, but nowadays the parties are often hosted in restaurants or bars. When alcohol is mixed into a party setting, there is a much bigger likelihood that an incident at a Christmas work party can occur. Therefore, employers should be aware of employment law issues and the contents of their staff policies.
It is unfortunately not uncommon for there to be fighting, drunkenness, offensive remarks, unfulfilled promises, and unwanted attention at Christmas parties. It’s important to remember that in England and Wales, your employer has the same legal responsibility for what happens at the Christmas party as they do during working hours. This means that incidents at Christmas parties can leave employers liable to a claim.
Can an Employer Fire an Employee for an Incident at a Work Christmas Party?
If an employee has a fight in the workplace, employment law constitutes this as gross misconduct. As a result, an employer may be able to fire the employee without any notice. However, if an employee has more than two years of service, they can claim ‘unfair dismissal’. If an employee brings forward an unfair dismissal claim, the employer will need to prove that they had a fair reason to dismiss the employee and prove that they acted reasonably when dismissing the employee.
If an employer fires one employee but keeps another when they both have acted in a similar nature, the employer needs to have a plausible reason to justify the different treatment.
Can You Make a Claim if the Party Was Outside the Office?
An employee may argue that it is unfair to be fired for events that occur at a work Christmas party if the party was not hosted in the workplace. In some situations, this may be true. If lots of people who are not normally a part of the workforce are at the party, then these arguments may be successful. This is especially the case if the event isn’t under the control of the employer or is ‘unofficial’.
Even if the party occurs away from the workplace, and doesn’t involve other employees, a dismissal can still happen and be fair. In a real-life case, an employee was caught drink-driving home from the Christmas party held off-site at a hotel. The negative impact of the association of the employer with that employee’s actions rendered a dismissal fair after the correct procedures had been followed.
Making a Work Christmas Party Sexual Harassment Claim
Your employer can be ‘vicariously’ liable for their employee’s actions and comments at the Christmas party. For example, if at a Christmas party, a fellow employee makes you feel unwelcome due to their sexual advancements and behaviour, this would be classed as sexual harassment under the Equality Act. Therefore, not only could the perpetrator be personally liable, but your employer could be vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions.
Incidents at Christmas Work Party Case Study – Northampton Recruitment Ltd
In one incident at Christmas work party case, a managing director and owner of a company decided to continue drinking with the staff in a nearby hotel after the work party. The managing director paid for most of the taxi fees and drinks. In the early hours of the morning, an argument broke out between an employee and the managing director.
As a result of the argument, the managing director decided to punch the employee in the face. This caused the employee to fall on the floor unconscious, and he struck his head on the pavement. Due to the punch, the employee suffered brain injuries with a long-term cognitive dysfunction.
The Judge’s Ruling on the Assault
The judge, deciding on the matter, had this to say:
“Standing back and considering matters broadly, what was taking place at 3.00 a.m. at the hotel was a drunken discussion that rose after a personal choice to have yet further alcohol long after a works event had ended.
Given the time and place, when the conversation was, as it was for a significant time, on social or sporting topics, no objective observer would have seen any connection at all with the jobs of those employees of the defendant present.
That it then veered into a discussion about work cannot provide a sufficient connection to support a finding of vicarious liability against the company that employed them.
It was, or without any doubt became, an entirely independent, voluntary, and discreet early hours drinking session of a very different nature to the Christmas party and unconnected with the defendant’s business. To use a hackneyed expression akin to “a frolic” of their own.”
Incident at Christmas Work Party Appealed
Despite the initial judge’s ruling, the decision was appealed, as all three appeal judges disagreed with the original judge.
The Appeal Court decided that when the managing director spoke to his staff about work-related queries at the after-party, he was wearing his “metaphorical managing director’s hat”. As he was the managing director, he had responsibility for how he established his authority. Therefore, he had full control over how he conducted himself when speaking to his staff about work-related queries. In this regard, the company was found liable.
Incident at Christmas Work Party Case Study – Cancer Research UK
In another case against Cancer Research UK, a visiting scientist had attended the Christmas party where they picked up an employee of Cancer Research and dropped her. This resulted in the employee receiving a severe back injury. That employee then took legal action against the charity.
However, in this case, the court found that Cancer Research UK had not breached their duty of care. When the court looked at their 5 previous Christmas parties, they were all incident free. Additionally, the court found that regarding vicarious liability, the scientist’s actions at the party did not sufficiently connect to the job he carried out for the employer (which was mainly research). Therefore, it would not have been fair to hold the employer to blame.
The Most Common Incidents at Christmas Work Parties
In 2015, the National Accident Helpline carried out a study relating to accidents that happened at Christmas parties.
Some of the most common accidents are:
- Spilling a drink on someone else (3.7 million employees affected).
- 6 million people have suffered injuries from falling at a Christmas party.
- Lighter burns have affected 1.5 million people.
In addition, ankle and wrist injuries were commonplace, as well as instances of food poisoning.
Tips for Employers to Avoid an Incident at a Christmas Work Party
- Remind your employees of your expectations and be clear on what is inappropriate behaviour.
- Control the amount of free alcohol, potentially using a voucher system that limits how much alcohol each employee can consume.
- Make sure non-alcoholic drinks and food are available.
- Avoid discussions with employees about career or pay topics.
- Consider ensuring a member of management or more senior employee with first aid training is available to deal with any emergencies or incidents that arise. Should an incident occur, that employee can then deal with anyone injured, taking photographs, notes of the injury as well as providing first aid and/or calling for emergency medical services should the need arise.
Tips for Employees to Avoid an Incident at a Christmas Work Party
- Do not forget you are effectively still ‘at work’ and conduct yourself accordingly.
- Try to avoid drinking too much so you remain in control of what you do or say.
- Avoid discussing any career or pay topics with your manager.
- Report any potential hazards.
- If you have an accident, report this to your designated first aid or senior member of staff.
- Take photographs of any injuries.
How Our Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyers Can Help Your Claim
If you have experienced an incident at a Christmas work party, then our expert employment solicitors are available to support you through your claim.
Our solicitors will guide you through the legal process, choosing the best options to aid in the success of your claim. Your employer should not ignore workplace matters such as employee neglect and sexual harassment. Therefore, our workplace employment solicitors will work closely with you to hold those who are responsible accountable.
Get in contact with our team of solicitors to start your claim.