The Christmas office party: what could possibly go wrong?

For tips: stay off the spirits; be respectful; avoid innuendos; and don’t get caught in flagrante delicto.

Matt Gingell
Friday 04 December 2015 10:15
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It’s Christmas office party time. Yes, it’s that time of the year for bosses to show appreciation and for you to have a jolly good time. But will some of you be thinking more about what could go wrong?

According to a recent survey carried out by a reputation management firm, Igniyte, one in four employees have vowed to cut back on drink this year to reduce the chances of doing or saying something embarrassing.

Nearly one in three of the employees surveyed stated that they flirted with a colleague at a past Christmas office party. More than one in four admitted kissing a colleague at one of these events. And one in ten drank so much alcohol that they didn’t turn up for work the next day. So, what could go awry?

Despite our good intentions, many of us will get tipsy, increasing the risk of doing something stupid. It may just be that we make an unwise remark about the boss. It could be that we let out an unguarded expletive. Some might do worse.

Perhaps it's stating the obvious but a flirtatious fix, a brazen brush or a cleavage comment could result in a sexual harassment claim. Likewise, making a flippant old fogey remark or referring to a colleague’s race, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation could amount to harassment under our anti-discrimination legislation.

Even if the behaviour or comment was not concerning one of these characteristics, it may still be deemed harassment in the wider sense and result in dismissal for gross misconduct.

Just supposing amorous advances have actually been welcomed, it’s also worth refraining from participating in more intimate activities. Indecent behaviour could similarly constitute gross misconduct.

Other actions, possibly, leading to summary dismissal might include: swearing at co-workers; insulting the bar staff; lighting-up; being inebriated; landing a punch on an arch-rival; refusing to follow the instruction of the boss to leave the party; pilfering the candle-stick holders; or even using the company account for a cab home afterwards – without authorisation.

In all cases of misconduct, providing that the reason for the dismissal is the misconduct, the employer carries out a reasonable investigation and the sanction of dismissal falls within the reasonable range of responses open to the employer, a resulting dismissal would be fair.

For tips: stay off the spirits; be respectful; avoid innuendos; and don’t get caught in flagrante delicto.

Now that I’ve said my piece, and to avoid sounding too much like the Grinch who stole Christmas, have fun, be merry and let your hair down.

Matt Gingell is a partner at law firm Gannons, which specialises in commercial and employment law.

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