This article first appeared in the Wicklow and Bray People on 4 December 2019. 

With festive party season upon us, it’s a time for workplaces to close the chapter on the year, blow off some steam and get into the Christmas spirit with their colleagues.

We rarely expect the Christmas party to have negative outcomes, but it happens. As we discussed in our last article, employers have a responsibility to ensure that the Christmas party is safe for all staff members while setting clear guidelines on what will and will not be tolerated in a social setting.

Employees themselves should also be aware of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour, and the resulting consequences. The work Christmas party should ultimately be treated as an extension of the workplace, with co-workers treated with the same level of respect.

What constitutes inappropriate behaviour?

Inappropriate behaviour can run the range from inappropriate or unwanted comments and disorderly behaviour to harassment and verbal or physical abuse, often exacerbated by an over-indulgence in alcohol.

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 outlines the essential characteristics of harassment as conduct that is (a) unwanted and (b) that has either the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. 

Employers should remind employees that the same behaviour deemed appropriate in the work environment is required at a company social event. This also applies to any ‘Secret Santa’, where there is sometimes scope for risqué or inappropriate gifts to be given.  Employees should know in advance that inappropriate behaviour which takes place in a work-related social setting will be dealt with in the same manner as if it had taken place in the workplace.  Furthermore, employees have a general duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety under health and safety laws. Employees have the same duty to their colleagues who may be affected by their own acts or omissions and employees should be cognisant of these obligations when consuming alcohol. 

Posting to social media

It’s a wise move to have a social media policy in place and alert staff as to what they should not post on social media sites. Data protection and privacy issues can arise easily if photos of the office party are shared online without the consent of those who appear in the images. There is also a risk that inappropriate or offensive comments could be left on social media posts.

While employees should ensure to have an enjoyable night, they should also be careful in their interactions with colleagues, remembering that their obligations and duty towards colleagues and management applies at the party in the same way as they do at work.


Article by: Marie Hynes, Senior Associate Solicitor at Augustus Cullen Law Solicitors. Augustus Cullen Law is based at 7 Wentworth Place, Wicklow. If you would like more information on this topic, call +353 404 67412 or email


10 December 2019

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