Employment Bulletin Winter 2015
As the Christmas period beckons the Employment Team at Hand Morgan & Owen continue their tradition of putting a dampener on the festive period by warning of the risks and pitfalls of Christmas activities.
These raise a number of health and safety issues that employers should be careful of. Lights should be carefully checked to ensure they do not pose any fire hazard and employers should be wary of any tripping hazards and the blocking of access ways by decorations.
Employees putting up Christmas decorations are acting in the course of their employment and accordingly care should be taken to ensure that decorations are put up safely with no tottering on swivel chairs to hang the tinsel.
In our 2013 bulletin we set out a number of issues for employers to consider when planning a Christmas party. This year we look at some cases demonstrating how things can go wrong and what can be done to avoid such problems.
In the case of Sarah Nixon -v- Ross Coates Solicitors (an Employment Appeal Tribunal case in 2010) office gossip subsequent to a Christmas party led to a successful claim for constructive unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment.
Ms Nixon was seen by colleagues kissing a fellow staff member and spending the night in his room. She subsequently advised the Managing Director that she was pregnant. The Human Resources Manager became aware and speculated about the father of the child. Unsurprisingly Ms. Nixon complained and asked to be relocated. When this request was refused she resigned and successfully claimed constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy related discrimination.
The risk of career discussions at office parties is demonstrated by the case of Judge -v- Crown Leisure which went as far as the Court of Appeal in 2005. In this case an employee claimed constructive unfair dismissal against his employer after his manager promised him a higher salary at a Christmas party which subsequently failed to materialise. Tribunal proceedings and subsequent appeal proceedings followed to establish whether or not this constituted a contractual promise. The Court of Appeal held that it did not.
In the case of Gimson -v- Displayed By Design Limited in 2012 an employee punched his colleague in the face whilst walking home from a Christmas party. He was subsequently dismissed following a disciplinary procedure and claimed unfair dismissal arguing that this was not an act of gross misconduct as the incident occurred outside his employment. The Employment Tribunal disagreed with this and took the view that the Christmas party was sufficiently closely related to work and it was a consequence of the works party that the two were walking home together. A further significant factor was that the Respondent company was a small business and the assault would have had a significant impact on the working environment.
One of the more costly cases arising out of a Christmas party, again involving Solicitors, was the case of Elizabeth Weston and Merrill Lynch in 2004. This claim settled for a £1,000,000. This substantial sum was offered to bring an end to the claim bought by Miss Weston following comments made by a male colleague about her chest, her husband being “a lucky man” and her sex life.
What steps should the employer take ?
- Ensure anti discrimination/equal opportunities and harassment policies are in place and remind staff of these.
- Remind staff that they are still acting within the course of their employment and should behave appropriately.
- Have in place a social media policy (an increasingly essential for modern employers) and draw staff’s attention to the consequences of inappropriate use of social media.
- Try to control the flow of alcohol and ensure availability of soft drinks.
- In circumstances where entertainment or speakers have been engaged, check in advance that their material does not contain anything that could be offensive.
Humbug and Merry Christmas from all at Hand Morgan & Owen.
8 December 2015
If you would like to read other articles, fact sheets and bulletins on Employment Law go to our employment page.
For advice and assistance in respect of Employment matters contact Nigel Pepper, Consultant or Patrick Nelson, Associate on 01785 211411.
The contents of this article are for the purpose of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.