Office parties leave companies open to legal issues

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Offices could be having to cope with more than just employees nursing hangovers this Christmas, as the fun of the festive season leaves companies wide open to possible claims of sexual harassment, according to a new survey by find-a-solicitor service Contact Law.

The survey revealed almost three out of ten (28%) people have been on the receiving end of unwelcome advances from a co-worker at the office Christmas party. Of these, 15% were advances made by a boss or senior colleague. This could place companies in an extremely precarious legal position, especially if these incidents lead to an official complaint made about inappropriate behaviour, which 6% of those surveyed said they had made in the past.

But it’s not just senior members of staff who need to be on their best behavior. The survey also found that 18% of those polled have made an inappropriate comment to their boss after a few festive drinks. With this in mind, it is not surprising that one-in-ten said that they have considered not attending the Christmas party in case they embarrass themselves in front of colleagues.

However, some companies won’t have to worry about the Christmas party fall out. Just under half (48%) of those people questioned said their employer was not planning to hold a Christmas party this year. This will be a relief to the 55% of people polled who admitted attending the annual event was more of ‘a chore’ than good fun.

And employees of companies that have decided not to hold a Christmas party had mixed views on the decision. Many were surprisingly compassionate, with 38% stating that it was inevitable given the economic climate. However, that wasn’t the feeling amongst everyone. Almost a fifth (17%) of those polled thought it was ‘tight’, and that companies should reward their staff at Christmas. However, almost half (45%) said they were not bothered whether their company held a party or not.

Dan Watkins, Director at Contact Law, comments:

“Christmas parties are a chance for employees to relax, have a few drinks and enjoy the rewards of a year’s hard work, courtesy of the boss. However, what seems on paper to be an innocuous event can prove a legal nightmare for many companies. The possible pitfalls are numerous – sexual harassment, health and safety issues, restricting alcohol from underage interns, employees drinking too much and behaving inappropriately – the list goes on.

“It’s interesting to see that so many employees are sympathetic towards employers who decide not to throw a Christmas party. Many people are just grateful to be in a job at the moment, and the fact that they are missing out on a few glasses of bubbly and a turkey dinner in order to save the company some money seems like a minor inconvenience.

“Despite all the potential issues, as long as staff behave sensibly, the Christmas bash is still a great way to say thank you to staff – and appreciative and happy employees leads to a productive work environment.”

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