Alcohol and Work Events – are they a good mix?
Employers have a duty of care towards their staff whilst they are at work. What many employers fail to recognise is that this duty of care is not just limited to the physical place of work; it is a much wider definition. It can include any event that takes place in connection with one’s employment.
We all know that alcohol reduces a person’s inhibitions, but what if one of your employees starts making racist jokes; acts inappropriately towards a junior member of staff; picks a fight with a member of the public. Are you liable for their actions and how do you deal with the aftermath?
Obviously, any act that occurs in the place of work is the responsibility of the employer. However, both anti-discrimination laws and vicarious liability look deeper, to see whether the act that took place happened in connection with the person’s employment.
This means an employer is potentially liable at the following events:
• Office parties and social events the employer has arranged or contributed towards;
• Entertaining clients;
• Training events or work awards ceremonies;
• Product exhibitions;
• Employees undertaking trade union activities.
It will not apply to truly independent social events employees arrange between themselves or if the office is invited to a colleagues wedding or birthday.
If the event is deemed to be connected to the person’s employment, that means the employer has a duty of care to the employee. It will be liable for acts of discrimination committed amongst staff and could be vicariously liable for the actions of its staff in public.
If you set clear boundaries in terms of what behaviour you expect from employees, it is much easier to take action after the event and may even help you defend claims against you.
Here are our top tips to help you manage alcohol at work events:
1. If you are hosting the event or encouraging staff to have social events, limit the amount that can be spent on alcohol.
2. If your employees are attending work events, limit how much they drink at those events. You can even ban alcohol consumption entirely. How employees act in front of clients is a reflection on your business.
3. Make sure you have no involvement in events that are purely social between staff. Maybe say these should be arranged on personal phones and outside work hours.
4. Consider where you hold work events. Having drinks in a bar may exclude those who do not drink, including for religious or health reasons.
5. Implement a policy setting out your expectations and train staff and managers on it.
6. Make sure your managers are following the policy.
7. When an event is approaching that may cause issues, remind staff of your policy.
Dealing with Concerns
If, after an event has taken place, you receive any complaints from staff or overhear staff taking about any inappropriate behaviour, take action immediately.
Where an employee complains about the actions of a colleague, investigate those concerns and take appropriate disciplinary action. If the individual accused of inappropriate behaviour says they were too intoxicated to remember what happened, this should not be a ‘get out of jail card’. In fact, in criminal matters alcohol is an aggravating factor; why should that be any different at a work event.
Staff may start regaling tales of the night before and laughing about events. If you overhear them recounting any inappropriate behaviour, you should take action. You need to ensure you nip matters in the bud early on, otherwise you risk things escalating.
If you would like advice on implementing work place policies or if you have had issues at a work event, please call the team on 0207 388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written which may affect the information and advice given therein.