The party season is coming, so as employers should we be celebrating or panicking?
If you Google ‘Employer’s Christmas party’, the first 6 results are insurance companies offering Employer’s liability Insurance!
So why is this the case?
Firstly, there could be the big risk that harassment could take place and of course violent incidents at alcohol fueled work parties are not unheard of, but is the employer responsible in these situations?
Yes – if the incident arose during the ‘course of employment’.
What that means is if the incident happened during the Christmas party itself the employer is potentially liable. It doesn’t matter that the employer would have disapproved of the incident or clearly had not directed someone to behave in that way, they still could be liable. The reason is that social events away from the workplace but involving people from work either immediately after work, or for an organised leaving party, are considered to be in the “course of employment”.
However, some relief is possibly at hand. In a case this past summer, it was decided that the employer was not liable for damages resulting from an incident that occurred after a party when a number of employees continued drinking in a hotel room at a different location in an impromptu session. It must be remembered that it is still a fine line and one that employers need to be on their guard against because each case will be decided on it’s individual facts. This is not a get out of jail free card.
So, practically what should employers do in advance of the party season?
They should ensure that they have a policy on equality & diversity, harassment and bullying in place and that their code of conduct includes behaviour at work related events. Also, that everyone is trained and made aware of these polices and the expected behaviour standards (reminding people that they may be personally liable for some acts can really capture people’s attention!)