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As an employer, could your Christmas party end up costing you money?

As the boss, you want to give your staff a good Christmas send off.

But, if a booze-soaked clash erupts at your office party, your company could be liable for injuries even if you had no part in it, leaving you seriously out of pocket.

You may think that a bust-up between two members of staff whilst out of the office is none of your business, but this is not strictly the case. Employers are vicariously liable for actions by their staff if it happens ‘in the course of their employment.’ This includes Christmas parties, as they are work activities.

Recently sales manager Clive Bellman claimed he was left brain damaged after his boss punched him twice at an office Christmas party. The decision was then taken to sue the company, and in effect its insurers, rather than the director personally.

However  since the assault took place at a hotel after a group had left the party for a private drinking session,  the judge held that the company was not liable. This was because the blow had not been struck during the Christmas party itself.

This judgement is a reminder to companies that they could be held responsible for improper behaviour at works events.

When planning a Christmas Party, as well as ensuring that employees are able to have fun and let their hair down, employers need to ensure that employees know boundaries, since there are so many potential problems that can occur. It may seem unfair that alcohol-fuelled fights between intoxicated employees lead to liability for employers but, unfortunately that could be the case. Even if management are not present and the acts happen ‘out of hours’ or away from the office, it may leave employers on the hook. Unwanted sexual conduct / harassment or discrimination linked to race, religion, sex, age and gender by employees on Christmas parties are all further likely stories where employers may be left on the hook through the actions of their staff.

Office holiday parties are actually on the decline with only 65% of companies hosting them last year, down from 72% in 2012.

She added that employers should warn employees of the risks of behaving inappropriately at staff parties – regardless of whether they are held on work premises or not.

It should be made clear that any inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with accordingly, which may lead to their disciplinary process being invoked, other precautionary measures should also be put in place like limiting the amount of free alcohol, nominating members of senior management to act as ‘officials’ and make sure any sort of unruly behaviour is avoided or stopped and dealt with as soon as possible. By not having boundaries and measures in place, it may cost an employer dearly.

If you feel you have experienced this situation yourself, you can speak to one of expert Employment Law Solicitors who can advise you on whether you can do anything about it and what the best course of action is. Contact our expert employment law team on 0161 930 5151, E-mail employmentteam@gorvins.com or fill in our online form and we will call you back.

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