“IT'S CHRISTMAS” (well nearly) Employers Beware!
Article written by Senior Associate Solicitor, Kate Lea:
I confess, any talk of Christmas in my household is forbidden until we hit December. Although with two small children, truth be told they are already ramping up to the big day and only this morning my daughter was parading around the house singing Christmas carols.
Tis' the season!
However, inevitably at this time of year people start to plan their Christmas festivities and preparation for the annual work party is underway.
The Christmas party should be a time to reflect and celebrate with colleagues. Having recently joined Lawson-West Solicitors I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get to know my colleagues a little better and with remote working practices now commonplace such gatherings are more important than ever.
Pressure to drink at your Work Christmas Party?
In my younger years I was never one to refuse a free drink and would look forward to the Christmas party. However, in more recent years this was replaced with feelings of dread. I have witnessed ‘loose lips’ and indiscretions. Inappropriate behaviours which were the source of considerable embarrassment for colleagues and yes, in some cases disciplinary action. However, the pressure to drink remained.
Employers have a duty of care...
However, I do think a cultural shift is underway. The drink culture is waning for the younger generation and my recent and current employer, whilst encouraging of a good time, recognise the need to create a safe and inclusive space for colleagues to come together to share festive cheer.
Harrassment Case at Christmas Party:
Personally, I am now of an age where I have the confidence to say, no. Or perhaps it is just the thought of my children waking me at 6.30 am which makes abstaining so much easier! However, sadly there are incidents where the office Christmas party ends in tears and in some cases extends to acts of harassment and sexual assault. Ref: case of P v Crest Nicholson plc and Crest Nicholson Operations Ltd: 3311744/2020 and 3313454/2020. In this case a female employee successfully pursued a claim of harassment under the Equality Act 2010 asserting, in summary, that a sexual assault by her manager following an office party was done in the course of his employment and that the company “failed to put reasonable safeguards in place for staff at the Christmas party.”
I am not suggesting alcohol be banned at work functions. Nor am I calling for the end of the Christmas party. I am glad to say that I now look forward to a work social event – and a free drink! However, employers must recognise they have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of their staff.
What can Employers do?
Employers should remind employees (and other attendees) of acceptable standards and that they will operate a zero-tolerance policy for any incidents of errant behaviour. Only then will women (and men) feel able to report inappropriate behaviours, colleagues feel able to intervene and hopefully tragic cases such as this will be confined to the past.
NEW Act coming into place!
I am pleased to report that The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 is due to come into force later next year. This is an important development in the protection against sexual harassment at work. It will place employers under a statutory (legal) duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment at work. If employers fail to do so the Equality & Human Rights Commission will be able to take enforcement steps against the employer and may result in the Tribunal awarding an uplift to any compensation payable following a successful Tribunal claim. A step in the right direction.
However, for now have fun, stay safe and perhaps when that colleagues asks if you want “one more for the road” have the courage to say, no.
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