Skip to main content

Office “cheese and wine” & Employee Conduct

Office “cheese and wine” & Employee Conduct

We are all hoping for a better Christmas this year without any restrictions on how many loved one’s we are able to see on the big day itself. Now we are almost half way through the month already (don’t shoot the messenger) I hope you have been able to enjoy a festive event or two with colleagues this year, in line with government guidance. As we all know, this time last year the Government was asking us to work from home and the office Christmas lunch or party was definitely off the cards. However, in the last few days we have heard unconfirmed reports of Downing Street having had a Christmas party (I mean “cheese and wine” night), an allegation profusely denied by Mr Boris Johnson himself. Avoiding the obvious unjustness of this if Mr Simon Case’s investigation finds it to be true, this raises the point that it is incredibly important to be clear with your employees about what conduct is and is not acceptable.  

The Christmas party is an obvious one and thankfully, at the time of writing this, the Government guidance does allow workplaces to have some smaller Christmas related celebrations. It is important to set clear expectations of your employees regarding the expected standard of conduct both during the working day and at any organised work social events. Employers are aware that in the workplace they have a ‘duty of care’ to employees, but they should also be conscious that this duty extends to cover organised social events, even if they take place out with the premises and outside the usual working hours. This means that employers can and will be held vicariously liable for the actions or omissions of employees if they take place in the course of the employees’ employment. The relevant legal test here is whether the acts were ‘so closely connected with the employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employers vicariously liable’.

So, how do employers reduce the chances of getting themselves into a potentially sticky situation and avoid the reputational damage Mr Johnson and his party now find themselves exposed to? Well, a good starting point is for employers to ensure that all of their policies are up-to-date and that employees understand them. This means giving employees’ access to paper or electronic copies – if you have an intranet this is a good place to store policies for easy accessibility. Any time the policies are updated this should be brought to your employees’ attention, they should be asked to familiarise themselves with the policies and you may wish to ask employees to sign confirmation that they understand them.

Depending on the size of your business, there are certain policies which you must have in place for legal compliance. For social events where employees are often encouraged to let their hair down and have a good time, it is essential to have an Equality and Diversity policy, an Anti-Harassment and Bullying policy, a Disciplinary Procedures policy and a Grievance policy. Following any social events, if any grievances are raised they should be dealt with appropriately and in accordance with your policy; likewise, your disciplinary policy should be followed for any disciplinary actions. It is also a good idea to communicate with staff prior to any social event to remind them that they are expected to act in accordance with conduct standards as set by the employer. You may wish to have a standalone Standards of Conduct policy and indeed many sectors are governed by these types of policies.

Putting this to one side, social events such as Christmas parties are a fantastic way to boost morale, ensure staff feel valued and let’s face, we could all do with a morale boost after the last 20 months. Business organised social events are not to be avoided as there are clear benefits associated with them, but employers should ensure that their policies are up-to-date and that employees are aware of the standards expected of them.

If you haven’t had a look at your policies in a while and would like to have them reviewed for legal compliance, then get in touch with the Employment team at Thorntons on 03330 430350.

About the author

Kerri McIver
Kerri McIver

Kerri McIver

Solicitor

Employment

For more information, contact Kerri McIver or any member of the Employment team on 0131 624 6844.