At this time of year businesses look at having an office party but there are always concerns about just what will happen at these parties and to what extent the company is responsible for the actions of its employees at these parties and how far the duty of care extends.
Where this is a company organised event the company can be held liable for the activities of its employees at the party itself insofar as they are reasonably foreseeable and the company has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent them. Drunken behaviour at a party where the company is providing alcohol is predictable so you need to take steps to manage this and ensure that your employees know what is expected of them. Drunken or other inappropriate behaviour outside of the party is not the company’s responsibility.
Consider any work function as an extension of the office and another work location. The employer’s obligations are exactly the same as they are at the work place. Responsibility is for how people behave at work but not when they are travelling home.
Companies should remind all staff that as this is a company function they are expected to behave in an appropriate manner and that the company has authority to deal with any issues that occur at that event. Set out that any unacceptable behaviour, including breaches of the bullying and harassment procedures, will be subject to the company disciplinary procedure in the same way as if they occurred in the workplace during normal working hours. Also, stress that the company has the right to investigate and take action relating to any activities out of work that have a detrimental impact within the workplace afterwards.
Employers should encourage responsible drinking. Try to limit the amount of free alcohol available to each person and ensure that bar staff are instructed to refuse to serve alcohol where appropriate. Consider allowing unlimited soft drinks to all employees but limit any free alcohol to a responsible level. It shouldn’t be necessary for the employees to get drunk in order to enjoy themselves.
Companies should consider having designated non-drinkers from the management team who will be responsible for dealing with any issues that occur at the party before they get out of hand. It is also worth reminding all members of staff with supervisory or management responsibilities of the dangers of getting into compromising situations with junior staff members because of the risks of subsequent complaints of favouritism or abuse of power.
Remember the dangers of anyone drinking and driving and it is worth reminding all workers of the obligation not to drink and drive and stress that anyone who drinks and drives in a company vehicle will be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
Employees are responsible for their own actions. The employer’s obligations are to provide a healthy and safe work environment. The company can, however, be liable for the actions of its employees if it hasn’t taken reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour.
For help on Christmas parties at work, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.