How to keep your office party on the right side of the law

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Office party

The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) offers a checklist for employers designed to help you celebrate without fear of a hangover in court

When an employee approached his boss at an office party to argue that he was paid unfairly, the resulting chat led to an employment tribunal.

The claimant said he’d been promised a salary matching that of a better-paid colleague within two years. When that didn’t happen, he quit, claiming constructive unfair dismissal.

Judge v Crown Leisure went all the way to the Court of Appeal. Although it found in favour of the employer – taking into consideration the “convivial spirit” of the party – this case does show how such events could become a reputational risk and a drain on resources.

If you’re now thinking about putting away the bunting, the IoD’s Information and Advisory Service offers the following checklist, designed to keep employers clear of trouble.

1. Know your duty of care

The office party is a company project. As such, it will need to comply with regulations covering health and safety, discrimination, harassment and vicarious liability. These all apply when the law regards employees attending a social gathering as “at work”.

For instance, in Stubbs v (1) Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police and (2) Walker, a policewoman complained that she had been sexually harassed by a male colleague during an after-work function in a pub. The chief constable was found vicariously liable for his acts.

2. Be all-inclusive

Is the party open to every employee, irrespective of age, gender, race and disability? You should invite anyone on maternity/ paternity, parental or adoption leave. It may be appropriate to invite people on long-term sick leave too, depending on their condition.

3. Set the ground rules

Send a clear written message to all invitees about the kinds of behaviour that will be tolerated and/or not tolerated. This should include a reminder that the firm’s disciplinary and grievance procedures will be applied if necessary.

4. Consider the location

Is the party being held at a venue accessible to disabled people? Will alcohol be served? If so, have you considered how staff will get to and from the event?

5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

To quote the old wartime expression, loose lips sink ships. Although the employer won – eventually – in Judge v Crown Leisure, managers should avoid getting drawn into talk of pay rises or promotions at the party.

6. Be social media savvy

Do you have a policy covering how people publish photos or discussions about the party online? All invitees should be made aware of their colleagues’ data protection rights.

7. Apply common sense

Senior managers should be briefed and ready to address typical problems – for instance, someone appearing to be worse for wear or behaving inappropriately. Be pragmatic and avoid getting heavy-handed over minor incidents that could be handled better with a quiet word the next day.

Do enjoy celebrating your team’s hard work together and, if in doubt, remember that IoD members can call the legal helpline (0870 241 3478), quoting your membership number, for further expert guidance.

How the IAS can help you

l The Business Information Service (BIS) is accessible by email (businessinfo@iod.com) or phone:
020 7451 3100

l The Directors’ Advisory Service (DAS)can give guidance by appointment, either face to face at 116 Pall Mall or over the phone:
020 7451 3188

l The legal helpline can answer quick queries about a vast range of issues:
0870 241 3478*
l The tax helpline can give callers advice on both commercial and personal tax matters:
01455 639110†

IoD members are entitled to 25 enquiries a year to the BIS; four sessions with a DAS adviser; and 25 calls to both the legal and tax helplines. For further details, visit iod.com/information or emailbusinessinfo@iod.com

* Quote your membership number
† Quote your membership number and reference number 33337

Become a member of the IoD

The IoD has a range of memberships for directors, founders and co-founders, providing all the resources and facilities needed to enhance your business. To find out more about membership offerings and to join today, visit iod.com/membership

Featured image details: Injured party – a drunken revelation spoils the office bash for Shirley MacLaine’s character in the Oscar-winning 1960 film The Apartment 

 

About author

Ryan Herman

Ryan Herman

Alongside his work for Director, Ryan has written for SportBusiness International, VICE Sports, Populous, Audi and Gallop Magazine and was previously editor of Sky Sports Magazine.

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