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Ho Ho Ho Hum!

14 December 2007

One of our employment lawyers offers some tips to avoid post-office Christmas party blues!

Office Christmas parties can be trouble on legs. Believe me – like all employment lawyers, I see the aftermath of the shenanigans when sexual harassment cases pile through my door every January.

So here’s my Christmas present – six tips to help company bosses avoiding hassle this Yuletide.

  • Forget all the clichéd Christmas party stuff about people getting legless, furtive groping and uncouth happenings on photocopiers. They are things of the past: now there are social and legal consequences and if you cross the line, you will know about it.
  • In most cases you, the employer, is liable for any acts of sexual harassment on members of staff, whether committed by work colleagues or guests. There is no upper limit on awards but in more serious cases, employers have had to pay around £120,000 for sexual harassment and hurt feelings.
  • Make your staff aware of the personal risks of sexual harassment. They may not realise that a harasser can be named as a ‘respondent’ in a tribunal claim and can be ordered personally to pay compensation to the victim as well as the company having to make a payment.
  • Take steps to ensure that the party doesn’t get out of hand. For example, someone senior should be prepared to take an employee or a guest to one side and give them a warning that they are behaving inappropriately or, if necessary ask them to leave.
  • Remind staff that the normal disciplinary rules apply, even during the party. This may seem like a bit of a dampener, but a balance must be struck and the company needs to protect itself by laying down some rules.
  • In law, you are responsible for your staff and you must ensure that they refrain from lewd, suggestive or over-familiar behaviour. A large volume of free alcohol often acts as a catalyst so it is wise to ration it to sensible levels.

It’s a funny thing, but while I’ve been busy writing this, the office seems to have gone very quiet. In fact the lights are out and there’s nobody here .. only this note on the door: “Gone to the Christmas party – make your own way home. See you in January.”

Now I wonder why they didn’t invite me ….?

As always, if you need commercial and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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Jenny Hawrot LLB (Hons)
Senior associate, solicitor
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Jenny Hawrot
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