It’s that time of year again….when lawyers warn employers of the risks of tribunal claims from staff at Christmas. Although this makes us sound a bit like Scrooge the main thing is that you and your colleagues enjoy Christmas!
In order to avoid any discrimination claims everyone in the business should be invited to the Christmas party whether or not they are on sick or maternity leave.
If you are planning to hold the Christmas party in the office you may also want to consider rules about misuse of the office photocopier!!!
If you employ staff under the age of 18 remember it is still an offence to consume alcohol under age.
Also ensure that any comedy entertainment does not offend people based on their religion or sexual orientation for example.
Fighting at the Christmas Party
The High Court has recently decided that a company was not vicariously liable for the assault by one of its directors on an employee following the company’s Christmas party.
Following the Company’s Christmas party, several party guests moved onto a hotel to continue the celebrations. M (managing director) and B (an employee) engaged in a heated discussion regarding a work matter. M lost his temper and assaulted B, and B was knocked out and sustained brain damage.
B claimed that the Company was vicariously liable for the actions of M and claimed damages, however the claim was rejected by the High Court. The High Court decided that as the assault was committed after a work social event, and as the assault occurred in the context of an entirely independent, voluntary discussion regarding work during a discreet early hours drinking session, the Company was therefore not vicariously liable.
However, that is not to say this will be the same decision every time. The Court could not find a sufficient connection between the Company arranged Christmas party (which is an extension of work) and the assault. Where the assault took place at the Christmas party the decision is likely to be different.
In an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) an employee was promised by his manager at the Christmas party that his salary would double. The employee subsequently resigned, claiming constructive dismissal on the grounds that his manager had broken this promise.
The EAT decided that as the conversation took place at the Christmas Party the manager did not intend to enter into any legally binding contractual commitment.
Although this is good news for employers – the company in this case was lucky and the decision might have been different.
The headache the next day
Where employees might be required to work the day after a party – ensure that employees are not working under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Employers might also want to consider placing a cap on alcohol served – unfortunately, free bars can be seen to endorse excessive binge drinking and therefore any resulting drunk behaviour.
Joe Bloggs has tagged you in a photo on Facebook
The last thing an employer needs is for inappropriate images (or worse videos) of the Christmas party circulating on social media sites. Employer should consider implementing social media policies and communicating those to staff beforehand.
Employers should encourage employees to consider in advance whether their choice of Secret Santa gift might cause offence or be construed as bullying or harassment.
There are three public holidays over the Christmas period so employers might want to draw up rotas and confirm with employees the days they will be required to work over the holiday period to avoid any confusion or upset amongst staff.
It used to be common practice at this time of the year for employers to give employees Christmas bonuses as a gesture of goodwill. However, in recent years, employers often ask whether or not they can do away with the bonus going forward. This all depends on the contract of employment.
If an employee’s contract of employment doesn’t mention a bonus but one has been paid over a number of years, an employee may argue that such a bonus is an implied term of his/her employment contract.
Additionally, in calculating Christmas bonuses employers should ensure that if a bonus is based on company or team performance throughout the year that employees who have been absent, for example, maternity or medical reasons, should not be discriminated against or treated less favourably than employees who have not been absent on such leave.
If an employee fails to attend work due to snow or other travel disruption, they have no statutory right to be paid. Employers should think about an adverse weather policy which could include the possibility of staff working from home or taking annual leave.
And finally – have a wonderful Christmas from all at Morgan LaRoche Solicitors.