Party Season 'Could Create Issues For Businesses'
A leading employment lawyer is warning businesses to beware of ‘Festive Friday’ discrimination claims as businesses are most likely to put themselves at risk of employment law claims at the end of this week.
Glenn Hayes, Partner in the Employment team at law firm Irwin Mitchell in Leeds, said: “The final week before Christmas is the week when employers are most likely to leave themselves open to discrimination claims as the consequences of events at office Christmas parties.”
The last ‘normal’ Friday before the festive holiday is underway is this week (17 December) as next week is Christmas Eve. Hayes claims that this will be when many office Christmas parties and events are held in an attempt to avoid any sick days from staff.
However he warns that although Christmas parties can be great for boosting morale, employers need to be aware of their duty of care to staff, particularly in light of the recent Equality Act.
Hayes said: “Christmas parties are traditionally a chance for both bosses and staff to let their hair down and celebrate. However some bosses will be concerned about defending claims from staff experiencing harassment, distress or even violence at the parties, which can start with drunken banter or stolen kisses under the mistletoe.
“Even if a Christmas party is held out of working hours and away from company premises, the law treats them essentially as extensions of office life, which many employers do not realise. This means that a firm’s duty of care to staff still applies.
“So if complaints are made over issues such as discrimination or harassment and businesses do not conduct full investigations or issue formal warnings to staff stepping seriously out of line, they could easily find themselves on the wrong end of expensive employment tribunal decisions with potentially huge payouts, just as if the misconduct had happened at work.”
Employers could fall foul of equality laws as early as the party planning stage. Hayes said: “Depending on the event of choice, it could be seen as a deliberate exclusion of older workers, possibly giving rise to age discrimination risks. Also events focused solely around drinking alcohol may cause some unease for those whose religious faith does not permit such actions.
”The important thing is to be sensible in the approach to Christmas. Staff should be allowed to have fun and celebrate the festive period, but employers need to ensure they take their duty of care seriously. This includes making sure people get home safe; ensuring that it is made clear that drink-driving will not be tolerated.”