What did you do at the work Christmas party?

SFA reminds employers of their potential liability for indiscretions at festive work events

The SFA said complaints from employees after Christmas parties are not uncommon. Photograph: iStock

The SFA said complaints from employees after Christmas parties are not uncommon. Photograph: iStock


Ever wake up in a cold sweat, desperately trying to remember what you might have said or done at your Christmas party?

Whether it’s airing some ill-advised home truths, telling your boss how to best run the company or making inappropriate advances towards a colleague, not many such events end without some indiscretions occurring.

Perhaps that’s why the Small Firms Association (SFA) has issued a warning as the party season gets into full swing, advising employers that it’s all fun and games until somebody loses a court case.

“An employer can be held liable for anything done by the employee in the course of employment,” said SFA director Patricia Callan on Thursday.

“In this regard, a work-related event is seen as an extension of the workplace and it is important that employers and employees are aware of their obligations from the outset.”

It may all seem a little bah-humbug but, says the association, complaints from employees regarding grievances, including harassment and sexual harassment, are not uncommon.

Serious repercussions

“We all understand the benefits of a social outing on team building. However, these social events also have the potential to provide a context for inappropriate behaviour that could have serious repercussions,” Ms Callan said.

The SFA advises employers to control alcohol intake by providing drinks vouchers instead of having a free bar and to ensure food is provided.

And even before everyone heads for the party, employees should be reminded about existing policies, particularly those governing bullying, harassment and the use of social media, the SFA said.

“It is advised that employers take action on complaints without delay and follow the company procedures in the normal way,” Ms Callan said.

“Previous case law has shown that the Equality Tribunal was extremely critical of complaints not being followed up by a company as the issue arose at the Christmas party.

“It is also important to bear in mind that, if a manager witnessed an incident or altercation, they should be excluded from conducting the formal investigation into the matter in line with fair procedures.”