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Employment Law: Christmas and workplace issues Q&A (Part 3)

View profile for Chris Amys
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Q: Can employees put up Christmas decorations in the workplace?

Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and therefore if an employer holds the honest belief that something could put an employee’s health and safety at risk, it could decline that request.

It is a myth that putting up Christmas decorations breach health and safety legislation and therefore businesses should feel free to deck their halls. However a risk assessment should be carried out in any event, to ensure nobody’s health or safety is place at risk.

Q: What is the effect of inappropriate conduct at a Christmas party?

Even if a party takes place after normal working hours, any conduct is highly likely to be considered to be during the course of employment and could be dealt with by an employer’s Disciplinary Procedure.

Unfortunately alcohol intake is often a contributory factor to unacceptable behaviour. Limiting the amount of alcohol available, providing non-alcoholic beverages and providing food will help reduce the likelihood of misconduct occurring. But incidents happen even without alcohol consumption as spirits remain high and as such employers may issue a reminder in advance of the party to employees about expected standards of behaviour and the consequences for failing to meet these.

Dealing with alleged misconduct at an office party is no different to dealing with it at any other time. Prompt action should be taken but an employee should not be disciplined at the event.

Q: How do you avoid a discrimination claim at the workplace during Christmas?

It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee at any time, especially at a Christmas party. However, employers can easily slip into the trap of discriminating others at this time of year.

Christmas parties should be as inclusive as possible to avoid potential discrimination claims. When planning the event, an employer should consider whether the date clashes with any other religious dates and whether the date/time might mean some individuals, such as women, are disproportionately less able to attend.

An employer should also not exclude anyone who is on sick leave, paternity or maternity leave. However they do not need to insist that everyone attends a Christmas party.

Furthermore Christmas is a Christian holiday, so employers need to be mindful that not everyone will want to attend a Christmas party because of their religious beliefs.

Q: Can an employee rely upon an employer’s comment or promise at a Christmas party?

Employers should avoid discussing career opportunities, prospects and remuneration at all costs at a Christmas party. Even words of encouragement could be misconstrued.

There have been various cases pursued by employees alleging that promises of a pay rise, promotion etc. have been made during a Christmas party and there is the potential for such promises to be legally binding.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with Sally Morris at sally.morris@mfgsolicitors.com or on 01905 610410.

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