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The Christmas Hangover

If you are a business owner or manager, you just might be returning after the Christmas break to a big disciplinary headache or two, resulting from over exuberant merry making by staff at the office Christmas party.

Although most office parties are consigned to history as uneventful, January does seem to be the season for grievances to be lodged by employees regarding a colleague’s behaviour at the office party which has either caused offence, or worse, has amounted to an unlawful discriminatory act.  The fact that this may have happened off work premises doesn’t matter, as an event such as a party or a meeting at a hotel, restaurant or other venue would be considered to be part of the employment relationship. According to recent research, 70% of business owners and managers feel unable to handle such matters without guidance on the relevant law and procedure.  This isn’t surprising given that if an employee is successful in an Employment Tribunal discrimination claim against their employer, the award does not have a statutory cap (like unfair dismissal cases do) which means the stakes can be high and getting it wrong by not following a fair disciplinary procedure could be very expensive.

Employers should already have sound policies in place in order to deal with disciplinary or grievance issues, but it does sometimes happen that policies are missing from staff handbooks, or out of date. What should an employer do in this case? The best thing is to take proper advice on how to approach the problem. Every case turns on its facts and there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions to employment issues; what might be appropriate in one case may not be in another.  Making sure your managers are trained to hold disciplinary and grievance meetings correctly is also key in ensuring that you stay legally compliant.

And what if you are an employee who has been on the receiving end of a colleague’s unwanted behaviour? Are you familiar with your company’s grievance procedures? Do you know how and to whom you should make a complaint?  The first thing you should do is to check your staff handbook for the correct way to go about this, and to not post the incident on social media!

Making sure you follow correct procedures and taking professional advice is the best way to avoid the Christmas hangover!

For further information, please contact Robin Williams.