The office Christmas party season is upon us and ‘tis the season to be jolly. But when does an employee’s festive cheer stray towards having legal consequences for the employer?
In Mrs S v CRUK, Mrs S, an employee of CRUK was dancing with Mr B (a visiting scientist), at the office Christmas party. An overzealous Mr B whisked her off her feet, lost his balance and dropped her on the dance floor. Mrs S landed on her back and sustained serious injury. She sued her employer in negligence. Mrs S claimed that CRUK was vicariously responsible for the actions of Mr B and should therefore compensate her for her loss resulting from her injury.
CRUK escaped liability because Mr B, as a visiting scientist, was an independent contractor. The result could have been somewhat different had Mr B been an employee of CRUK.
Reasons to wrap it up early! - another sad story of Mr B
In the case of Mr B v NRL Ltd (2018) at an afterparty following the office Christmas party, the Managing Director, Mr M, gave an alcohol fuelled lecture to his colleagues on his superiority within the office. This led to an argument resulting in Mr M punching Mr B at approximately 3am. Mr B sustained a brain injury. The employer escaped liability in this case because the afterparty was not an extension of the Christmas party and Mr M was therefore not on duty. Cases of this nature are fact sensitive. Had this occurred at the Christmas party or had the after party been sufficiently connected with the employer, liability may have arisen.
So, what lessons can employers take from the tales of our Mr Bs?
To avoid the possibility of unwanted consequences arising out of the Christmas festivities, be open with staff as to expectations well in advance of the Christmas party. Arrange transport where possible, to assist staff in returning home safely. Circulate policies relating to misconduct, bullying and harassment, alcohol consumption and relationship at work prior to the Christmas party, by way of reminder to employees of the standards of behaviour expected. Appoint a sober sensible person who can deal with any issues that arise. That said, do of course make sure that your team can enjoy their party and celebrate Christmas in a happy and safe way!
And if you require any assistance with the necessary policies or dealing with the consequences arising out of the Christmas party give us a call at Benest & Syvret. We’ll be having a mince pie or two but will always be ready to help.
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