know the Christmas office party is an extension of the workplace?
Many employers approach the Christmas party with fear and trepidation as
they wrestle with the legal implications.
The easy option is to cancel the Christmas party but this has
significant follow on effects on morale.
However with a little
planning and sensible organisation you can overcome this potential
minefield. Set boundaries from the start and remind staff that the party
is work related and an extension of the work place.
The Employment Equality Acts of 1998 & 2004 and subsequent case law
has made it clear that employers can be liable for the behaviour of
their employees at the Christmas party.
Employers need to have policies in place and should take preventative
action. Firstly to protect their employees from unacceptable behaviour
and secondly to protect the organization from any legal liability in
Certain preventative steps should be taken in order to
ensure that the employer has discharged their responsibility for any
potential acts. Precautions that can be taken include:
- Raising awareness of the organizations policies in relation to
Discipline & Grievance, Equality, Health & Safety, Bullying
& Harassment etc.
- Remind staff that the social event is an extension of the workplace
and that their behaviour should reflect that.
- Remind all staff of the types of behaviour that will be considered
inappropriate and how they can be subject to the disciplinary procedure.
- Notify all staff that alcohol consumption at the event should be
- Ensure that managers have been briefed on how to deal with a
situation where an employee’s behaviour threatens to get out of hand.
A code of practice issued by the Equality Authority
suggests that the scope of the protections under the Equality Acts
extends past the workplace. This includes work-related events (although
the position of work-related social events is not clear).
In the 2002 case of Maguire v North Eastern Health Board, the Equality
Tribunal held the employer liable for discriminatory comments made to an
employee at a Staff Christmas Party.
In Ms O’N –v- An Insurance Company (1) the complainant employee claimed
that she has been sexually harassed in a nightclub following a Sports
and Social Club pub-quiz. The employer had sponsored a free bar during
the pub quiz and at the night club. The Equality Officer drew attention
to the Equality Authority’s Code of Practice but held that the
harassment took place at an event which the employee did not attend for
“the purposes of or in furtherance of work”.
Employers need to make it clear to employees that an event that is work
related is an extension of the work place. Consequently all of the
policies and procedures which govern an employee’s employment also apply
to an employees conduct at the Christmas Party or any other work
related social event.
This e-newsletter provides general information on Irish employment
Law and good practice. This e-newsletter is provided for information
purposes only which may not address the particular circumstances of your
The content in this e-newsletter is NOT a legal
interpretation of any matter and should not be seen as such. For
professional or legal advice you should consult a suitably qualified