Generally speaking in employment law terms if you attend a social event organized by your employer, with work colleagues this is considered an extension of the work place, even if it does not take place at your normal place of work. This means that the normal rules of conduct and behaviour apply. Those committing any misconduct, for example swearing, shouting, abusive language or violent or threatening violent behaviour can be subjected to disciplinary action as if it had occurred in the work place.
The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimization carried out by their employees in the course of employment, unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts.
Some examples of cases that have previously been brought are:
The Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and other where a police officer complained of sexual harassment by colleagues in a pub outside working hours. The Employment Appeal Tribunal stated that social events away from the police station involving officers from work either immediately after work, or for an organized party fell within the remit of during the “course of employment” and as such the employer was responsible for the actions of the staff member carrying out the harassment. This is known as vicariously liable.
In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment a drunk Managing Director caused serious injury to a sales manager when assaulting him at a Christmas party. The employer was vicariously liable for the assault.
Case law has established though that what happens after the official Christmas party, even if with work colleagues is not the employer’s concern.
As an employer it might be worth reminding staff that normal work rules apply at the party/event. Any grievance raised by a staff member about an occurrence at the office party should be treated seriously and no less seriously because it occurred outside normal working hours.
As an employee, whilst you may want to let your hair down, you should still be on your best behaviour to avoid any implications for your job. You should also ensure that you make it to work after the party. Employers can take disciplinary action for non-attendance, even if it is as a result of a work social event the night before. Employers should treat all employees in this situation the same though. An employer can only make a deduction from wages for arriving late to work if the contract of employment permits this.
For advice on all areas of employment law, for employers and employees contact Jennifer Carpenter our employment specialist solicitor.