In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment, the High Court recently ruled that an employer was not vicariously liable for an assault by its Managing Director on a junior employee. This is despite the fact that the incident took place during an argument about work matters, at an “after party” following the official office Christmas party.
The case draws a sharp distinction between the “after party” and the Christmas party itself. It is far from clear that the court would have reached the same conclusion had the assault taken place at the earlier event.
It is important to remember that the case was a personal injury one brought in the civil court where the test for vicarious liability is narrower than it is for discrimination law. If the case was brought in the Employment Tribunal as a discrimination claim the test is whether or not the actions/events took place during the course of employment – this could extend to “after party” drinks.
Without wishing to dampen the festivities, it is always helpful to remind staff (particular line managers) of a few things to think about, to help ensure that, as far as you can, everyone's welfare is looked after. They should also be reminded that they are responsible for the actions of employees even though the party may be off site and after hours.
A few practical recommendations which you may wish to share with line managers prior to an event include:
Watch the booze
Don't offer unlimited free drinks – Unsurprisingly most incidents at Christmas Parties are linked to alcohol. Supply plenty of soft drinks to ensure you cater for those who are not drinking for belief or other reasons.
Ensure that there is enough food
Whist it is difficult to stop people from over indulging ensure that there is enough food and soft drinks available to balance things out.
Consider how people will get home
When thinking about party finish times, think about transport timings. Also if there is anyone that is worse for wear, obviously see if you can persuade them to take a black cab or licensed taxi home (get someone to see them to the cab if necessary) rather than let them wander the streets searching for a bus.
Beware of Social Media
The increasing use of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can tempt party goers to upload photos of their colleagues looking worse for wear and/or posting inappropriate messages which could cause offence or embarrassment (not to mention privacy issues on the images). Consider making it clear at the outset that everyone should avoid.
It is helpful to ensure that there is a named person who is in a position to (and able to) make clear decisions and look after their respective team or sub-teams during the course of the party, even if the 'do' breaks up and people move on to other venues. It would be prudent to remind all your team that they have a responsibility towards each other as well.
And remember to have fun!