I know, I know, the party poopers are at it again. But just dusting down some seasonal advice might save you a lot of trouble, and cost!
(This is an updated version of a post from last year, and I thought it may be helpful to run it again.)
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. In any event they are covered by general legal provisions, on sexual assault for example.
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 have one…you should!)
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 this could include the line between sexual harassment and sexual assault (which is a crime). It’s not as wide as may be thought in the macho mind.
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.
I referred last year to an article in the Sunday Business Post by solicitor Linda Hynes of Leman Solicitors to a fight at an office party in Malahide which resulted in an unfair dismissal and cost the employer €150,000!
And the employer may be liable for such behaviour if s/he has not taken reasonable steps to prevent or address it. Linda Hynes’ excellent checklist on Work Place social events can be accessed here
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.’