With St. Patrick’s Day (18th March) approaching employers need to be aware that their responsibilities continue during social events. Whilst events may be organised with the best of intentions celebrations can unfortunately turn into commiserations where employers neglect to take appropriate precautions.
Social activities and events organised by someone at work for other staff members are likely to be deemed as occurring within an extension of the workplace. In such instances employers remain vicariously liable for incidents which can include those related to discrimination, harassment and employee negligence. Employers need to make their employees aware that even during social events normal workplace rules, including those related to anti-bullying, equality and discipline, apply to everyone.
At work social events where alcoholic beverages are available, employers should remind event participants that responsible consumption is advised. Employees should be made aware that alcohol is no excuse for misbehaviour and disciplinary policies remain applicable at social events. Employers should encourage senior employees to lead by example and consider appointing them to preside over behaviour at the event.
In the event that misconduct arises there is potential for harassment claims to be brought. Governed by The Equality Act 2010, harassment can arise where an individual is subjected to treatment that actually is (or has the potential to be construed as) intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive; or equally where it violates their dignity. Resulting workplace gossip can also amount to harassment so it is imperative that such murmurs and rumours are dealt with at the first instance rather than being allowed to escalate into incidents of bullying
or harassment. By ensuring that suitable anti-bullying and equality policies are in place and being enforced, employers may benefit from a statutory defence to any claims arising under vicarious liability.
Employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees’ safety. Therefore it may be advisable to consider how employees will return home safely after an event. The provision of transport or contact details of registered taxi firms is one way of doing this and where someone has ‘one too many’, appropriate arrangements should be made to send them home.
Occasions may arise where employees fail to report for duty on the morning after an event. In circumstances where there is no notification of the absence and the employee appears to be AWOL, normal disciplinary procedures will apply. However, if the employee calls in sick and the absence is believed to be due to inappropriate behaviour at the event rather than genuine sickness, evidence of this would normally be required to progress disciplinary action.
In the run up to social events employers should be pre-emptive of potential issues and actively remind their employees of the scope of conduct rules and the positive behaviour expected during workplace events. Reiterate to employees that it is their behaviour towards all which is accountable, not just actions aimed toward fellow employees.
Be pro-active, be thorough and may the shamrock bring you good luck!
For any further clarification, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.
by Nicola Mullineux