But the Christmas party (or other social; events, or work events away from the normal workplace) give 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 colloeagues who have clear legal entitlement to be free of certain types of unacceptable behaviour.
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.
The Small Firms Association notes in its November bulletin 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.’