The staff Christmas party; too much cheer could cost you dear!

 I know, I know, the party poopers are at it again. But just dusting down some seasonal advice that might save you a lot of trouble, and cost!

(See also excellent article by Linda Hynes, Solicitor,  Leman Solicitors in Sunday Business Post, December 18th)

The fact is the Christmas party (or other social events, or work events away from the normal workplace) gives rise to obligations and may be covered by employment rights law.

Bullying legislation refers to behaviour ‘at the place of work or in the course of employment’ and while a single act will not constitute bullying the same does not apply to harassment, and that normally means sexual harassment.

This is defined (in broad terms) as inappropriate or unwanted verbal or physical behaviour and could result in a complaint by a victim of such behaviour under the company  ‘Dignity at Work ‘ policy (if you don’t…you should have one). 

And after the ‘rake of pints,’ shots and general bravado the insight necessary to distinguish between acceptable and unaceptable behaviour may diminish, with consequences for colleagues who have a clear legal entitlement to be free of certain types of  unacceptable behaviour. And this could cover a wide range of behaviours!

And while these comments have focussd on sexual harassment there are other aspects to dignity at work which may also be offended. We now have minorities in Ireland whose right to equal treatment is enshrined in law (and a pity in many ways we have to rely on the law for that measure of  decency and equality of treatment!)

And the employer may be liable for such behaviour if he has not taken reasonable steps to prevent or address it.

Linda Hynes refers in her article to a fight at an office party in Malahide which resulted in an unfair dismissal and cost the employer €150,000!

The Small Firms Association has noted that:

‘Employers must be aware that the party venue is basically an extension of the office and that they remain responsible for the well-being, protection and behaviour of employees during such events.  Employers should make note in a work function invitation that appropriate behaviour is required at the party.’

If you need more contact pat.brady@workplacesolutions.ie and see Equality page on this site