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We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a litigation free New Year…..

11.12.2010

Office Christmas parties have a habit of keeping Employment Tribunals busy well into the New Year. One recent case, for example, involving an employee spotted entering a colleague’s hotel room after the party highlights just how far removed from the incident an employer can be and yet still become entangled in litigation.

In that case the employee informed her employer that she was pregnant some weeks later, which led to months of speculation and gossip as to the baby’s paternity.

The employee subsequently raised a grievance and brought a claim for unfair dismissal and harassment. At first instance the harassment claim failed and the unfair dismissal compensation was cut to reflect the fact the employee had apparently caused the gossip herself.

The appeal tribunal reversed that decision, finding that the employee had in fact been discriminated against and harassed on the grounds of pregnancy. It went further, finding that that the tribunal had been wrong to cut the employee’s compensation, and the fact that the employee had put her sex life into the public domain and therefore supposedly caused the gossip did not assist the employer’s case.

The basic position is that the office party is an extension of the office, so employers can be held responsible for employee actions as they can be in the office.

As with so much in this area of law, much will hinge on whether the employer behaved reasonably in all the circumstances. In the event that something does go wrong, the employer will need to show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the incident happening, and this is where having good policies including grievance and anti-harassment comes into its own.

So just what can you do to protect yourself from an expensive trip to the Employment Tribunal in the New Year?

For more information please contact Amanda Finn at Gullands by email: [email protected]

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