Home > Newsletters > December 2010 Newsletter

December 2010 Newsletter

December 10th, 2010

Christmas Parties and their consequences!
As the Christmas season approaches many employees look forward to the works “Christmas do.” It is an opportunity for staff to let their hair down, but it comes with the risk that if things get out of hand there can be consequences that impact on the employment relationship.

Consider this letter from a few years ago

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to let you know that because of the disgusting actions of a small minority of those who attended the Pontins’ dance on 31 October. NGSSA have been banned from using the Pontins’ facilities for any future social occasions.

The tally of destruction included:- One double-decker bus taken off the road at 7.30 p.m.  because of its condition due to abuse en route to Pontins; damage to doors, fruit machines and other equipment; several people taken to hospital (2 detained overnight); fighting in the small ballroom; general misbehaviour, use of foul and abusive language (by males and females); drunkenness; abuse, jeering, hurling of missiles etc during the Miss Girobank contest; theft.

All in all we certainly made an impression on the staff at Pontins and on the large number of Police who were called out to restore law and order…the reputation of Girobank employees must be at an all time low.”

Trouble at the Christmas do
Trouble which occurs on a Christmas do can affect the employer’s reputation. A hotel or restaurant is not going to expect the same decorum from an employer who uses the premises for a business meeting, but when there is trouble or damage caused, the employer could face a bill for the damage, be barred from using the venue and suffer damage to its reputation.  The employer is going to want to investigate who was to blame and take appropriate disciplinary action.

Employers are entitled to take action if there is a clear link between the business interests of the employer and the misconduct in question.

Where misconduct has occurred at a Christmas do, the normal requirements to carry out a fair investigation still apply. The employer should investigate properly by interviewing relevant witnesses and preserving CCTV recordings if available. The employee should be informed in writing of the allegations, invited to a disciplinary hearing and if dismissal is being contemplated, should be warned that dismissal is a possible outcome, be given details of the evidence against them, and be invited to a disciplinary hearing and informed of their right to be accompanied by a work colleague or Union representative.

Dismissal is a permissible option if the misconduct was of a serious enough nature to merit dismissal for a first offence (gross misconduct) or if the employee is already on a final written warning.

The Christmas do may have gone well and without any problems, but if the next day is a workday, the employer should consider how he will deal with absenteeism as a result of employees who overdid it the night before!

Where the employer depends on employees turning up to work the next day, a failure to come to work or come to work on time may be grounds for disciplinary action.

It would be unusual to be able to justify dismissal for this, unless the employer has made it clear in advance that attendance at work the day after the Christmas do is so important that failure to attend could lead to dismissal. By doing this, it is far easier for an employer to justify a dismissal, the employee having been given fair advance notice of how seriously the employer will take absence the following day.

When contemplating dismissal employers should always pay close attention to the guidelines contained in the ACAS Code of Practice

A grievance by an employee
The risks of an employee complaining about sexual harassment or violent conduct is heightened in an alcohol fuelled environment. Not only might the employer face the need to investigate a grievance, but might have to deal with resulting sickness absence and possibly even a claim of sex discrimination or constructive dismissal.

Absenteeism the following day
Whether the employee has attended the works Christmas do or another seasonal celebration, an employer with a number of staff off with a day’s absence due to overindulging the previous night may face difficulties which they are anxious to avoid.

Disciplinary Action
Employees may assume that their conduct outside of work hours is nothing to do with their employer, but there are situations in which misconduct out of work can lead to disciplinary action by the employer.

Misbehaviour at a Christmas do might prompt a grievance by one employee against another. Unless an employer investigates a grievance properly the employee will start the new year unhappy and if the incident was serious may go off sick or even resign. The employer could then face a possible claim of unfair constructive dismissal. Even though the incident happens outside work, the employer still has an obligation to investigate a grievance if its subject matter impacts on working relationships.

Where the complaint has a discriminatory undercurrent, for example sexual harassment, the employer, may risk facing a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal. The employee would have to establish that the discriminatory act occurred “in the course of employment” to make the employer liable. Whilst in many cases employees will have difficulty persuading an employment tribunal that a social event is in the course of employment, some social events can be seen as an extension of their employment, and in one reported case a police officer’s leaving party in a pub was found to be within the course of employment.

If an employee submits a grievance, the ACAS code of practice (see above) provides guidelines of how to investigate a grievance.

On receipt of a grievance, the employer may conclude that a disciplinary investigation should be instituted.

Christmas wishes
So now you’re ready for anything that might happen, here’s hoping that your Christmas celebrations go off without incident and you have a happy and relaxing festive season.

With best wishes from John Halson Solicitors.

Categories: Newsletters Tags:
Comments are closed.