Mistletoe mayhem

By | 10 December 2014
20060520 11.jpg By Jon W (flickr: ronobot), 2006 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

20060520 11.jpg
By Jon W (flickr: ronobot), 2006
(CC BY-NC 2.0)

What’s more traditional than the sound of dodgy Christmas tunes, the clink of glasses and the whirr of a photocopier. Yes it’s the Christmas office party.  A time when colleagues come together to pull a cracker, have a glass of wine and reflect on the year gone by.  A time for the company to thank staff for all their hard work with a good meal and a drink.  However, free alcohol and office politics can see normal rules of office etiquette, indeed polite etiquette fly out the window. The Christmas party can turn all too quickly to mistletoe mayhem and raise some interesting legal issues.

  • In the case Judge v Crown Leisure Ltd[2005] EWCA 571, [2005] IRLR 823, [2005] EWCA Civ 571  the appellant resigned from his position at Crown Leisure Ltd alleging he had done so due to the fact that his employers had been in fundamental breach of his contract of employment by failing to honour a contractual promise to increase his salary. However, this promise had been verbal and at the Christmas party. The case was rejected by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that a ‘promise amounts to nothing more than a statement of intentions’. So if your manager exhibits unusual bonhomie in a party setting take it as just that.
  • Think Christmas party and the words ‘vicarious liability’ don’t normally jump out at you. Under the Equality Act, an employer is still held responsible for acts carried out by the employee during the course of their employment, which is known as vicarious liability. One would not normally assume that acts carried out at the Christmas party or indeed post-Christmas party were ‘in the course of employment’ The case of Livesey v Parker Merchanting Ltd [2004] All ER (D) 27 (Jan) proves the point. The appellant had had previous instances of harassment in the work place before the Christmas party. In this instance the employee was harassed on the way home from the party. The Employment Tribunal ruled that there was a continuous pattern of sexual harassment and ruled that all instances including the lift home had been carried out in the course of employment.
  • Not a Christmas party this one but still a party. Free bar, whoohoo, who wouldn’t be pleased. Well, let’s look at the case of Whitbread Beer Company v Williams & Ors [1995] UKEAT 160 94 100. The case followed a three day training session for employees. Large quantities of free alcohol saw three employees behaviour deteriorate to violence and abusive behaviour. Whitbread dismissed them all due to misconduct. However at the Employment Tribunal this was deemed unfair as the behaviour did not happen in work time and the free bar was provided by Whitbread. At the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) the dismissals were upheld. The EAT saw that the conduct of the three employees in getting drunk and their subsequent behaviour was a fundamental breach of their contracts of employment. Dismissal therefore did fall within the band of reasonable responses.  The irony being that the three day training session was on improving behavioural skills.

For more information on the Bodleian Law Library’s resources on employment law please see the Labour & Employment Law Libguide.