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Introduction to this document

Statement in advance of a work-related event

In advance of a major work-related social function, such as a Christmas party or a summer ball, it’s worth reminding employees in writing about the standards of behaviour you expect from them, even if you already have in place our conduct whilst on company business policy.

Health and safety

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, you have a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of your staff. If a social event is associated with work, the statutory duty is likely to extend to that too. So you must take steps to ensure the party venue doesn’t prevent any health and safety risks and that employees don’t put themselves or others at risk either during or after the party. This may include taking reasonable steps to ensure your employees don’t act under the influence of alcohol or drugs as this is likely to risk the health and safety of others. Employees themselves have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions or omissions. So our Statement in Advance of a Work-related Event reminds employees of the health and safety implications of excessive alcohol consumption, puts a prohibition on illegal drugs at the party, advises staff they should not drink and drive and, for those who aren’t driving, warns them that they need to make appropriate advance arrangements to get home afterwards.

Harassment

The most likely problem to arise as a result of a party is an unwanted harassment allegation. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 where one employee engages in unwanted conduct related to a “protected characteristic” that has the purpose or effect of violating another employee’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. The relevant protected characteristics for harassment are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation and it can include harassment based on perception, e.g. where an employee believes a colleague to be homosexual when he’s not. There is, however, an objective element to the harassment test so there won’t be harassment where an over-sensitive employee takes offence at a perfectly innocent comment.

Vicarious liability

You can be liable for the discriminatory/harassing actions of your employees carried out in the course of their employment and this will generally extend to their conduct at work-organised social events.  However, you have a statutory defence if you can show you took all reasonable practicable steps to prevent the harassment from happening in the first place, and this is where our statement comes into its own as it sets out the standards of behaviour and conduct expected from them and the consequences of non-compliance, i.e. possible dismissal for gross misconduct. Our statement also covers other issues that might arise at the party, such as excessive drunkenness, violent behaviour and the use of abusive language - whilst not harassment, they could result in other claims against you on a vicarious basis, such as a personal injury claim if someone’s injured as a result of, say, a drunken employee’s frolics. So it’s important to ensure your employees don’t engage in unlawful conduct in the first place and that you set clear guidelines in advance as to what’s unacceptable behaviour.