Office Party Warnings
November 28 2006 - A new survey of almost 5000 managers by law firm Peninsula suggests that the majority are concerned that this year's office Christmas parties will lead to employment tribunal claims because of bad staff behaviour. Most believed employees drank too much and three quarters said a member of staff had threatened to take a case to an employment tribunal because of an incident at a Christmas party. Almost nine out of 10 said they had received complaints from employees about the behaviour of colleagues.
Peter Done, managing director of Peninsula, said:
"The company Christmas party has become simply another excuse for employees to get drunk. There is a severe binge-drinking culture in the UK where it has become commonplace for people to drink many times the weekly recommended alcohol levels in a single night. For employees, the Christmas party is seen as a chance to get drunk with fellow workers at the company's expense."
Similarly, with the office party season approaching, employers are being warned to consider their overall approach to relationships at work. Law firm DWF says that although one in four people meets their partner at work, office relationships can be a minefield for companies. It advises employers to ensure staff are aware of what is inappropriate behaviour and even consider US-style 'love contracts'.
Clare Young, solicitor with DWF said:
"Office romances can cause all sorts of problems from loss of productivity and unrest among other staff to conflicts of interest and allegations of favouritism. If the relationship ends, it may result in the departure of a key member of staff or even a claim for sexual harassment. Where one party has a high profile or high-ranking position, it can also attract adverse media attention, such as with the recent revelations about John Prescott."
Young recommends that employers should run awareness campaigns, particularly in the run-up to 'danger times' such as office parties, to remind staff of the boundaries. Disciplinary policies should specifically mention inappropriate sexual behaviour and bringing the business into disrepute, even where the actions concerned take place in non-work time. Equal opportunities and harassment policies should clearly state that these may apply even in the case of an office romance.
Clare Young added:
"While an outright ban on workplace relationships is unlikely to prevent anyone from starting an office romance and may make it more difficult to identify, employers should consider introducing US-style love contracts. A contract could require relationships between colleagues to be declared to the business and set out what behaviour is acceptable between couples, whether in the office or at work-related functions. It could also state what measures the employer might take, such as transferring one or both of them or altering lines of reporting, or even disciplinary action if their performance suffers as a result.
"Most people will at some point have a liaison with a colleague, whether it lasts a night or a lifetime, so it is sensible for companies to have policies in place to try to prevent any problems which may arise as a result."
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