Industry News

Christmas Parties and other Social Events: Regulatory Issues

15 December 2016

The Law Society’s Blog on Christmas parties (see our comments in the News item Law Society: Lose your inhibitions but not your job’) contains some useful practical guidance on Christmas parties.  


However, perhaps more importantly, Christmas parties and other social events have the potential to impact on a number of issues of a serious regulatory nature, of which you and/or your staff should be aware, including the following:

  1. Reputation: the standard of your staff’s behaviour will be a matter of local and perhaps, wider knowledge, and staff should be informed that your practice risks a detrimental effect on your reputation if behaviour falls below what is considered acceptable.  They should be informed that even if a work social event takes place out of work-hours or away from the office, they are considered to be at work and disciplinary action could follow if behaviour is not acceptable;
  2. Health and Safety: you should be aware of health and safety considerations if alcohol is to be provided at the office or if a party will be held on-site, and carry out a risk assessment if necessary;
  3. Smoking: rules about smoking in the office (and other enclosed public places) are statutory pursuant to the Health Act 2006 and related regulations and obviously are not relaxed at parties, even if held in the office;
  4. Tenant covenants: if your premises are leasehold and you are providing drinks or having your party in the office, you should ensure you have checked whether music and alcohol are permitted under the terms of your lease and obtain landlord’s consent if necessary;
  5. Confidentiality: staff should be reminded of the importance of keeping information about clients and work matters confidential and particularly, about being discreet in public places and at venues away from the office, where conversations could be heard by other guests or bar/restaurant staff;
  6. Social media policy: staff should be reminded of your social media policy and in particular, the potential reputational damage, which could be caused by photos of drunken or other inappropriate behaviour being posted on externally accessible social media. Posting pictures of others, whether in a closed group or visible to the world at large, could also be classed as bullying or harassment;  
  7. Safeguarding: consider arranging taxis or even a mini-bus or coach for those living in similar locations or ensure they have pre-arranged lifts.  Be particularly aware of your responsibilities where office juniors or other staff are under 18 and alcohol is available or being provided by the firm;
  8. Equality and Diversity: staff should be reminded that harassment of or discrimination against other staff or other members of the public, relating to their 'gender, marital or civil partner status, gender reassignment, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, disability, religion or belief or age' is likely to breach the practice’s Equality and Diversity policy and to be treated seriously;
  9. Vicarious Liability: employers should be conscious of their vicarious liability for the behaviour of their employees (towards other employees or external third parties) and that even failure to be sensitive towards others in 'Secret Santa' scenarios could potentially result in a claim for constructive dismissal being brought against them;
  10. Disciplinary Policy: individuals should be aware that failure to comply with office policies could lead to disciplinary action and if so serious that it amounts to gross misconduct, could lead to dismissal without notice or pay in lieu of notice. Examples of behaviour which is likely to be categorised as gross misconduct (although each Staff Handbook or Office Procedures Manual will vary slightly) include deliberate and serious damage to property or buildings, repeated or serious failure to obey instructions, physical violence or bullying and (more likely where a party is held over lunchtime) being under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or other substances during working hours. The less serious offence of misconduct could occur where offensive behaviour or obscene language is used;
  11. Regulatory sanction: there is the risk of regulatory sanction being brought against the practice and regulated individuals in it, for breaches of mandatory obligations such as the following Principles in the SRA Code of Conduct, in addition to some of the lower level but mandatory Outcomes:
  • behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services (6);
  • comply with your legal and regulatory obligations (7);
  • run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with … sound … risk management principles (8)

By reminding staff of their responsibilities and taking the advice set out above, you should hopefully reduce the risk of longer lasting issues arising from your Christmas festivities and other social events.


 

Ian Braithwaite
Client Relationship Manager

T: 0845 056 3949
M: 0743 727 4046
E: ian.braithwaite@lbslegal.co.uk

For General Enquiries: Email enquiries@lbslegal.co.uk
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