Warning: x-rated festivities may damage your wealth

Employers
are being warned that drunken misbehaviour and festive horseplay at the annual
office Christmas party could lead to potentially expensive legal hangovers in
the New Year.

With
sexual harassment cases on the rise and compensation awards of up to £200,000,
organisations must be aware of the legal problems that could arise from
employee behaviour at Christmas functions.

Helen
Goss, an employment lawyer at Morgan Cole, said companies should prepare for
the worst by putting a non-optional sexual harassment policy in place.

Staff
should be fully aware of the principles they are expected to adhere to at
work-related social and business events, she said.

Goss
also warned that sex discrimination awards are not capped and in 2001 the
average compensatory award was £9,035. 

The
average award for injury to feelings was £4,439 with the highest amount at
£190,663 for sex discrimination.

Christmas
party poopers:


Recent cases include an employer incurring legal liability as they had
contributed towards an employee’s misconduct by providing workers with a free
bar.


Despite a party being held off-site in a hotel or pub, employers can still be
found liable for inappropriate behaviour, with potentially huge damage claims.


For those employers who lay on transport to and from the party, the vehicle
must be appropriate. The Ministry of Defence was recently found liable for
damages after an intoxicated officer fell out of the back of the army vehicle
that was taking him home.


People can be harassed by words alone and employers may find themselves liable
for a single drunken comment where festivities get a little out of hand.


Courts and tribunals tend to rely on a definition of sexual harassment provided
by the European Commission: ‘…unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or conduct
based on sex offending the dignity of women and men at work.’

By Ross Wigham

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