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10.11.2021

The office Christmas party memo: Employer responsibilities and employee conduct

By Kevin Callan

Last updated: November 10th, 2021

And just like that, Christmas is upon us once again.

With many office Christmas parties cancelled last year, they’re back on employers’ calendars again this year. And, while it’s great fun to celebrate with colleagues, it’s important that employee conduct doesn’t get out of hand…

Employee misconduct: What does the law say?

Employers can be found ‘vicariously liable’ for their employees’ misconduct. This ‘misconduct’ can include harassment, sexual harassment, or bullying if it takes place ‘in the course of employment’. All work-related social events fall under this ‘course of employment’ context.

That’s why it’s important that your employees don’t overstep the line at your Christmas party, whether it takes place in the office or an outside location.

Related article: Employer concern: Sexual harassment in the workplace

Employee social media responsibilities

It’s never been easier for a person to share an update on a personal success or a snap of a weekend getaway. But what if an employee of yours snaps a colleague doing something they shouldn’t at the Christmas party? And that snap ends up online, getting shared among staff, friends, and family?

The result is that your business could endure reputational damage and the employee in question could face disciplinary action. To outline your stance on social media, email, and internet usage, put a detailed policy in place which extends to work-related events. Also, remind your employees to respect the right to privacy of their colleagues at all times.

Party prep: Taking pre-emptive action

Let’s say an incident occurs at your office Christmas party and you immediately set about taking disciplinary action against an employee. That employee may have a reasonable expectation that what they do outside of working hours isn’t subject to company disciplinary rules. As such, you should take pre-emptive action:

  • Ensure that all employees have received a copy of their contract of employment and employee handbook. These documents should contain clear policies on bullying and harassment, email and internet use, and the applicable disciplinary procedures. Highlight your disciplinary rules and procedures to employees in advance. Make sure that they’re aware that they may be subject to disciplinary action for unacceptable behaviour.
  • Issue a memo to all staff in advance of an event and explain that, as the event is work-related, it will be subject to company rules and procedures.
  • If any inappropriate behaviour occurs, take swift investigative action upon the resumption of work. If an employee has made a complaint, refer to your memo.

Ahead of an event, remind staff to drink alcohol responsibly and in moderation. It’s also wise to appoint a designated person to take photos at a work event. Lastly, with the current situations, consider whether the venue is suitable. You must ensure that the chosen venue is safe from a health & safety perspective, bearing in mind its suitability for any disabled employee.

Looking for expert guidance on employee misconduct?

If you have questions about employee misconduct, we can help. Speak to a HR expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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