Focus on Employment Law

Meaby & Co has been offering Employment Law services for employers and employees since Head of Employment, Steven Eckett joined the firm in Autumn 2017. Chris Marshall joined the team a year later. Steven and Chris are based at the Soho office but are happy to see clients at any of the firm’s offices. They will be running a special offer of an initial complimentary audit of staff handbooks and contracts to highlight any risks and exposure and to recommend updates for employers, throughout the whole of January. Contact either one of them to make an appointment on 020 7703 5034 or at seckett@meaby.co.uk or cmarshall@meaby.co.uk

Below Chris discusses the dangers of the office Christmas party for employers.

The holiday season comes around again, and integral to that is the celebrated “office party”. The confluence of the exuberant nature of the occasion and the fact that alcohol is usually readily available and paid for by the employer can make for a heady cocktail of employee conduct which they would not normally indulge in.

1. So what are the employers’ liabilities in respect of their employees’ unwanted or unlawful conduct at the office party?

An employer will be held to be vicariously liable for the acts of their employees if they are “in the course of employment”, unless the employer took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent them. Despite the party often being outside both the physical confines of the office and normal working hours, case law has determined that Christmas parties will usually be deemed to be “in the course of employment” because the individuals who are present are primarily there because of their employment.
Attempts to label any after-party as “not in the course of employment” are likely to be ineffective for the reasons above, as the reality of the situation will be the determining factor in that, rather than the label.

2. Apart from abandoning the practice of holding the party, what can an employer do to avoid liability for any unlawful conduct of its employees?

“All reasonably practicable steps” to prevent the behaviour will generally require that the employer has provided training to its employees in this regard, and maintains, and enforces, policies to protect harassment. Warnings sent to employees before the party stating which kinds of conduct will represent “misconduct” and “gross misconduct” will serve as a defence for the employer if such conduct subsequently occurs.

It is an impossible task for an employer to eliminate such employee conduct, or the possibility of it being held liable for it. The best an employer can do is to take the above preventative steps which will serve as a defence should it be required to advance one.

Merry Christmas!