Employees should let their hair down at Christmas parties but not themselves,...

Employees should let their hair down at Christmas parties but not themselves, warns lawyer

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With Christmas party season getting into full swing, a Leeds law firm is urging bosses to take responsibility for their staff and ensure that individual and business reputations remain intact.

The office Christmas party can become a melting pot of inappropriate behaviour as staff not only let their hair down but sometimes let themselves down too.

Sexual harassment has rarely been out of the headlines recently and the office Christmas party has the potential to land individuals and the place of work in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. It is therefore important that any ‘banter’ or actions do not cross the threshold, potentially landing workers and the company in hot water.

Yunus Lunat, head of employment law at Ison Harrison in Leeds said: “Everyone wants to have a great time at the work Christmas party but why let a moment of indiscretion spoil everything. All employees should remember that the annual work Christmas party is considered to be an extension of the workplace.

“As enjoyable as it may seem to engage in some tipsy flirtation, it is important to be mindful of the consequences.”

Christmas parties are excellent for building team morale but while the normal responsibilities of work may be temporarily on hold, caution needs to be taken to ensure behaviour doesn’t lead to problems on returning to work.

Yunus added: “Even though employees may be physically out of the office, normal rules apply; the venue for the office party is an extension of the workplace for the purposes of the employment legislation: staff are expected to conduct themselves to the same standards expected whilst at work.”

This means that the same rules apply as if in the office or workplace. Even if they would rather turn a blind eye, employers may have to go through the standard disciplinary and dismissal procedures if things get out of hand. If an employer feels that there has been misconduct which could bring them into disrepute or affect the ability to carry out their role, then this could result in dismissal.

Yunus concluded: “The message is clear – have fun at the office party but don’t do anything you might regret later.”

The employment team at Ison Harrison has compiled some “dos and don’ts” to help during Christmas party season:

  • Do relax and have fun- but don’t loosen up to the point where you overstep the mark. Doing this can result in disciplinary action or at worst, dismissal. You might not remember what you said or did but there will be a whole host of people that do;
  • Don’t be tempted to phone in sick the next day should your party be held on a weeknight – your employer is still entitled to process the day in accordance with its sickness absence policy, which can result in disciplinary sanctions if appropriate;
  • Do post your photos on social media the day after the party, but take care with captioning. You could easily find yourself on the wrong side of the company’s social media policy with the wrong choice of words;
  • Don’t bring your grievances to the party. If a genuine issue with a colleague does exist, familiarise yourself with the set grievance policy and follow it when you’re back in the office. Even if an event has occurred at the Christmas party, you’re still entitled to report it;
  • Do remember that if the party continues elsewhere, it may still be clear that you’re from a certain company, so inappropriate behaviour can still be punished on the basis that you were ‘representing’ the firm at the time;
  • Don’t forget that if you are subject to harassment or other inappropriate behaviour, you are wholly entitled to report it and expect it to be dealt with fully and in a professional manner in accordance with the appropriate policies. Seek legal advice if unsure.