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Tis the season to be folly

 

For some, the company’s Christmas party is not a pleasant experience. Up and down the country mistletoe will be misused, sensible alcohol limits exceeded, pent up office politics aired and questionable dance floor moves exhibited.

For employment law solicitors, Christmas can be a busy time.

For example, last year a man in Australia working for an Australian road building company was dismissed after consuming alcohol and being rude to colleagues during their office party.

After drinking two bottles of beer before the office party and  about eight more beers and a vodka and coke he allegedly told a company director and a senior project manager to “f*** off”. He also asked a colleague: “Who the f*** are you? What do you even do here?”

After the party, he and some of his colleagues proceeded to a bar, where he kissed one woman on the mouth, later telling her: “I’m going to go home and dream about you tonight”.

He was sacked when he returned to work in January. However, he was held to have been unfairly dismissed because employers cannot insist on standards of conduct being maintained at parties if the alcohol flows freely.

Fortunately, a UK Employment Tribunal may take a different approach.

Any abusive comments, including making discriminatory comments to female colleagues that are unwanted and violate their dignity, would usually be considered gross misconduct which justifies dismissal. Provided your employer has followed the ACAS disciplinary procedure, you may want to ask Santa for another job rather than make a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal if you engage in such activity.

Some try to argue that because the same thing happened at last year’s Christmas Party and nobody was dismissed, it is unfair to dismiss them. This type of argument rarely succeeds under the case of MBNA Ltd v Jones.

Following this line of logic would result in standards of behaviour at the office party being lowered every year until all-out war becomes the norm and we do not advise any company to adopt this approach, and should remind staff of what behaviour is and is not acceptable, should there be any doubt.

Misconduct is not just limited to what happens at the party. It may be potentially fair to dismiss an employee for conduct outside of the workplace “so long as in some respect or other it affects the employee, or could be thought to affect the employee, when he is doing his work” (Singh v London Country Bus Services Ltd [1976] IRLR 175)

Finally, anyone tempted to buy inappropriate Secret Santa presents could also be looking for a new job if the present given is unwanted and violates the dignity of the person receiving it. The doctrine of vicarious liability means that the employer is responsible for the actions of their employees so organising Secret Santa could be a tightrope that may employers may want to avoid.

Whilst many employers have stopped holding office parties, thankfully Bah Humbug Scrooge Ltd is still in the minority, so please take care and enjoy the festive season of good will to all

If you have any legal hangovers following the office party please get in touch with us today:

 

 

 

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