9th December 2013

All I Want for Christmas is You

We all remember the video for this Mariah classic.

Mariah is bounding around in her snow suit with Santa and the dog wearing the reindeer antlers, whilst singing about that special someone who is more important to her than presents.  However imagine that Mariah was an employee who was singing about a colleague with the office Christmas party looming on the horizon.  In that scenario, an employer would have good cause to be worried!

It is an established HR principle that an employer is liable for any discriminatory acts of its employees which are carried out in the course of their employment.  This means that an employer could be liable to an employee who is faced with unwanted advances by a colleague at a Christmas party.  The law is also clear that it does not matter whether these advances are carried out with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

It is however a defence for an employer to demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from taking these actions.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Code of Practice suggests that reasonable steps are likely to include:

–          Implementing an equality policy

–          Ensuring workers are aware of the policy

–          Providing equal opportunities training

–          Reviewing the policy as appropriate and

–          Dealing effectively with employee complaints

In an effort to protect itself, an employer should be doing two things.  Firstly it should be educating its employees about any internal policies and reminding employees of these policies prior to the office party.  Secondly an employer should take action, where appropriate, in respect of any breaches of its policies, even when such breaches take place at office parties.

Oh ….and you may not want to invite Mariah to your office Christmas party either!

Simon Allison 
Partner – Employment Law

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