Christmas Party - Sexual Harassment put on Hold !


Its the Christmas Party season, a time for merriment, banter, flirtation, kissing the boss under the mistletoe, kissing the office junior under the mistletoe, a drunken hand on the knee , a playful smack of the bottom, its the time when even the most upstanding person could over step the mark.   But take the law doesn't stop for Christmas and the new year,  unwanted behaviour is still seen as harassment and abuse and when the party is over the complaints begin. 


Prevention is better than cure so all HR managers should as the absolute minimum remind all managers and staff what is acceptable and what is not. 


Under the Equality Act 2010 employers have a defence if they can prove they took all reasonable steps to prevent employees from committing discriminatory acts. Employers should therefore consider taking the following seven steps before the Christmas festivities begin: 
  1. Ensure equal opportunities policies are up to date
  2. at the office party, and other social events, offer a selection of food and drink that caters for different religions/ cultures
  3. circulate clear written guidelines on equal opportunities and harassment, and the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules; and warn against inappropriate behaviour over the Christmas period, including inappropriate secret Santa gifts and sporting offensive fancy dress costumes
  4. comply with health and safety obligations - employers are responsible for the health and safety of employees both during, and on their way home from, the office party
  5. remind staff about the social media policy, and the consequences of posting pictures online that could infringe an individual's privacy rights and bring the business into disrepute
  6. be clear about expectations regarding absence or a late start the following day – and ensure employees are treated consistently
  7. ensure post party complaints are dealt with seriously and in accordance with company procedures
#Equality laws were not introduced to stop people having fun – but rather to allow everyone to feel at ease in their workplace and when socialising with colleagues

Even harmful banter is risky for example where a person makes a 'joke' about, say, sexual orientation; three people in the group laugh, but the fourth feels humiliated. Although the person who made the joke did not intend to discriminate, the employer could still be liable (as it is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees done in the course of employment), in addition to the individual who made the joke.

So 'harmless banter' at the office party could lead to an individual being on the receiving end of a formal grievance, being dismissed for gross misconduct, and being a defendant in a tribunal claim (along with their employer) and ordered to pay compensation.

Find out more about the latest employment and equality legislation by booking one of our courses


image: mistletoe festive kissing by Ravenelle used under CC BY 2.0

#christmas #christmasparty #HR #humanresources #abuse #sexualharassment #harassment



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