Social media snaps from office parties could force employers to put staff on the naughty list

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After we shared the dos and don’ts of the Christmas office parties last week, we look further into the implications of staff having a little too much fun at the holiday gala.

According to law firm HBJ Gateley, pictures of festive fun at Christmas parties posted onto social media could leave employers with a serious hangover

Pictures of festive fun at Christmas parties posted onto social media could leave employers with a serious hangover, according to law firm HBJ Gateley.

Ann Frances Cooney, a senior associate in HBJ Gateley’s employment law team, said employers wary of staff exposing boozy behaviour on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms should spell out policies in advance.

She warned that employers which tried to take disciplinary action against staff for posting inappropriate images online – without the firm first setting clear expectations of behaviour – could find themselves on shaky ground.

Sacking an employee for extreme behaviour is possible, said Ann Frances, but added that taking action against staff who posted pictures which caused the employer mild embarrassment, for example, could result in claims for unfair or constructive dismissal.

Ann Frances said: “Office parties should be great fun, and the vast majority of companies never encounter a problem, but when you add alcohol to the equation it’s less easy to control.

“Smartphones in the hands of drunk employees is rarely a good idea, but there’s real potential for boisterous staff to cause their employers embarrassment by posting inappropriate images to social media. Lots of people are now connected to customers and clients via Facebook and Twitter, and others post details of their jobs on their profiles.

“But it’s important for employers to clearly state in advance that what happens at the Christmas party should stay at the Christmas party. Trying to take action afterwards without having made the policy clear can bring its own problems if aggrieved staff take legal action for what they might feel is unfair treatment.”

Christmas parties also pose a series of other potential headaches for employers, with the risk of sexual harassment, alcohol-fuelled brawls, religious discrimination and post-party absenteeism increasing exponentially.

But Ann Frances said that by making clear the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, employers can mitigate risks without behaving like Scrooge when it comes to the office festivities.

She said: “Employers should provide clear written guidance to all employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, equal opportunities and harassment, as well as the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules. Everyone should know that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion will not be tolerated.

“This might sound like something which could put a damper on the fun straight away, but these are sensible precautions for employers, and it’s important to take reasonable action to protect staff.”

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