Misconduct and Office Christmas Parties: Who is Responsible?

As the festive season approaches, office Christmas parties will soon be upon us. Arranging a workplace Christmas party can lead to many questions, such as who organises and pays for it. Therefore, we will answer these questions to help individuals get on with their planning.

Furthermore, Christmas at the office can be fun and exciting for all. Unfortunately, this can be ruined if colleagues don’t act as they should during social events. As such, we discuss things employees should consider when attending an office party to keep it fun for everyone. We will also explore who is responsible if anything goes wrong and the consequences of gross misconduct outside of working hours.

Contact us today if you have suffered discrimination, harassment or victimisation following misconduct during a workplace event. Redmans Solicitors are expert employment lawyers and can guide you through the legal process. To get in touch:

Office Christmas Parties – Should Staff Pay?

Hosting office Christmas parties are a great way to build connections within a team and across departments. They provide a social opportunity that colleagues may rarely get and reward employees for their hard work the previous year.

However, they generally aren’t a contractual obligation. As such, who arranges them will be dependent on the individual company. Depending on the size and structure of the organisation, the boss, HR department, or employee appointed to organise the event could be responsible.

The same applies to the payment of the office party. Some companies may offer to pay for the event, while others may pay a certain amount. In some circumstances, the employees may be asked to cover the cost themselves.

Therefore, if someone’s unsure who’s in charge and who is liable to pay for the Christmas party, it’s best to ask the employer. So long as the policy applies equally and fairly to all employees, the decision is ultimately at the employer’s discretion.

Conduct at Office Christmas Parties

Office Christmas parties are there for all employees to enjoy, and individuals should consider their conduct during the event. It’s important to remember that although the workplace Christmas party is a social event, it’s still an extension of work. Therefore, it’s a good idea to think about what’s ordinarily appropriate at work and act accordingly.

Inappropriate behaviour that employees must avoid, among other things, include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Gossiping, whether that be during or after, as was the case in Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors
  • Bullying, again, whether that be during or after the event
  • Discussing confidential information that could be considered a data breach
  • Having a wrongful period of absence following the event for circumstances like having a hangover

Should an employee behave incorrectly, disciplinary action could be taken. This may include deductions from pay for unauthorised absences or dismissals for harassment. As such, employees must act as they would in the office while socialising.

Who’s Responsible for Misconduct?

Obviously, the individual involved in the misconduct will be responsible for their actions and disciplined appropriately. However, employers could also be vicariously liable for discrimination, harassment or victimisation at office Christmas parties.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must take reasonable steps to prevent such incidents in the workplace. Since Christmas parties are considered an extension of work, the same obligations apply.

Therefore, if an employee experiences discrimination, harassment or victimisation at an office party, and the employer fails to comply with their legal obligation, they could be liable. In such circumstances, the employee may make a claim to an employment tribunal against their employer.

Gross Misconduct Outside Working Hours

Vicarious liability doesn’t just extend to office Christmas parties, though. In some circumstances, the same can apply after the workplace party has concluded.

In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited, the court of appeal ruled the employer was liable after a manager punched a colleague at an afterparty following a workplace Christmas party. This was because the court found the company had paid for the drinks and taxis, and the manager acted within his management capacity.

However, they aren’t the only ones who could be liable after an office party. In the case of Gimson vs By Design Ltd, an employee was dismissed after fighting with a colleague on their way home. Mr Gimson later made an unfair dismissal claim, but this was unsuccessful.

Therefore, employers and employees must act correctly during and after office Christmas parties. If employers comply with legislation and employees behave as they would when at work, everyone can enjoy Christmas at the office.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, harassment or victimisation because of a workplace Christmas party, contact us today. As experts in all areas of the employment law industry, we can assess your case and advise on how to proceed. Simply: