Work Christmas Parties and Dismissal following Bad Behaviour

David Jones, Solicitor
Author:
David Jones
Employment Law Associate Solicitor
Date:
12/12/2019

The work Christmas party can be an event to remember, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

Some employees may wake up from their Christmas party and find themselves facing a disciplinary, a claim of sexual harassment or even losing their job because of bad behaviour.

Whilst the Christmas party is an opportunity to enjoy and socialise with your work colleagues, it can also lead to behaviour that would not be acceptable at work.

Ultimately, the event is an extension of the workplace. As an employee, you should be mindful of the potential issues you could face at work after bad behaviour at your work Christmas party.

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Do’s and Don’ts at the Work Christmas Party

You want to enjoy your work Christmas party, but how much is too much? If you take things too far, you could risk embarrassment on your first day back at work or you could even lose your job if your behaviour goes too far.

Gross misconduct is something you do not want to hear after your Christmas party. If you are sacked because of gross misconduct, you will lose your job immediately, with no notice pay.

Here is our list of Do's and Don’ts at the Christmas Party:

  • Do know your limits when it comes to alcohol
  • Do think carefully before posting anything on social media, especially live videos or photos. Also, think carefully about tagging colleagues. Is it appropriate?
  • Do be inclusive. Make sure everyone is invited.
  • Do not forget that you are still around work colleagues. Your behaviour should reflect this
  • Do not drink too much. Alcohol removes inhibitions and remember you’re still at a work-related event.
  • Do remember that if you phone in sick the next working day, no matter how hungover you are, your employer is unlikely to be impressed.
  • Do not take drugs. You would not at work, so do not at the party.

What is Gross Misconduct?

Even though gross misconduct is not defined in legislation, the label is used to describe the most serious types of misconduct that result in instant dismissal from work. Most staff handbooks set out a list of examples that usually include the following:

  • Fighting or violence
  • Discriminatory behaviour
  • Bullying
  • Theft or fraud
  • Bribery
  • Damage to company property
  • Accessing offensive material using the company internet
  • Being drunk at work or taking drugs

Your Employer’s Responsibilities

In England and Wales, your employer has the same legal responsibility for what happens at the Christmas party as they do during working hours.

Your employers can be ‘vicariously’ liable for your actions and comments at the Christmas party. This principle applies where the conduct happened ‘in the course of employment’ or with sufficient ‘close connection’ to work.

For example, if someone makes an unwelcome sexual advance or engages in behaviour of a sexual nature that is unwanted, this would be sexual harassment under the Equality Act. Not only could the perpetrator be personally liable but also your employer could be vicariously liable for the perpetrator’s actions.

The work Christmas party is the last place you should feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

Your employer may take some steps to try to avoid any issues. They may limit the amount of alcohol they provide using drink tokens and they could also provide taxi numbers for staff after the party.

But no matter what steps your employer takes to avoid any issues, you’re responsible for your own behaviour at the staff Christmas Party, so make sure you stay within the boundaries.

How Will Your Employer Deal with Bad Behaviour?

Your employer should act in a reasonable way to resolve any situations that happen at the work Christmas party. Your employer’s normal disciplinary procedure will apply.

If, for example, a fight happened at the party, your employer is likely to suspend the people involved while they investigate the incident.

The investigating officer will establish the facts. This will involve taking witness statements from the people involved and anyone else who saw what happened. There will be a disciplinary hearing, which will decide the outcome.

In most cases, physical violence is an act of gross misconduct and is likely to lead to losing your job.

No one wants to lose their job because of an issue at their Christmas party. Make sure you know the do’s and don’ts and enjoy the festive season with your job intact.

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