This article first appeared in the Wicklow and Bray People on 6 November 2019. 

The company Christmas party is a great way to build and strengthen relationships within your company, thank employees and celebrate the end of a successful year.

However, both employers and employees should remember that on Monday morning, everyone will have to return to the office and face the music.

To avoid any pitfalls, here are some tips to help you and your team have an enjoyable Christmas season.

Put the right policies and procedures in place in advance

Make sure employees are aware of the relevant policies and procedures in place to deal with sexual harassment, harassment and bullying in the workplace, in advance, as well as the email and social media policy, to cover employees tweeting, using Snapchat or sending pictures of a colleague via some other online platform.

Without suitable policies and procedures, unsuitable behaviour and misdemeanours at office events can have major repercussions. Under health and safety laws, employers have a responsibility for their staff’s actions, even outside of the normal working environment and hours.

Employers and members of management teams should also remember that an office party is not an appropriate place for discussions about salary increases, promotions or career prospects.

Understanding your duty of care

Most notably, the Employment Equality Act 1998 – 2015 confirms that harassment and sexual harassment can occur outside the workplace. The Equality Tribunal and the Labour Court have had little difficulty in establishing liability where an employee is harassed at what is clearly a work-related event such as a Christmas party.

Recent case law suggests that liability for harassment or sexual harassment which occurs at Christmas parties can only be avoided by an employer expressly preventing such events or providing guidelines and policies around them.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the year-end party is enjoyable and safe for all staff members. In addition, employers have a further responsibility to set clear guidelines on what will and will not be tolerated in a social setting. These guidelines need to be communicated clearly and frequently prior to the Christmas party to ensure it will be an enjoyable event for all.

When does the duty of care end?

Determining when that duty of care ends after a Christmas party is a difficult question. Just because a work function or Christmas party has ended, does not mean that the employer’s duty of care necessarily ends.

An employer or organisation may still be liable if an incident occurs following the event. The standard that usually applies is that the employer has a duty of care to the employees while they engage in any activity reasonably associated with attending a work function. Employers need to consider travel arrangements for employees when the party is over i.e. ensuring that the party is being held in a venue that has good transport links.

The employers’ duty of care ceases when an employee is deemed to enter into conduct which is not “reasonably foreseeable” with attending a work-related function. Employees should be aware they cannot claim their employer is responsible if they engage in outlandish behaviour at the event.

With the right policies and procedures in place and clear communication, the Christmas party should not cause a headache when returning to work.

Article by: Marie Hynes, 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 info@aclsolicitors.ie


12 November 2019

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