The news this week has been dominated by the Number 10 Christmas party last year. Now with Plan B restrictions being implemented, it is left to individual businesses to decide whether or not they would like to go ahead with theirs. With that aside, perhaps you may have missed that Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, is calling on the police to investigate the suspected use of cocaine in the House.
We know that illegal activity when onsite is subject to disciplinary action, the possibility of the loss of employment, and worst case scenario, a potential criminal conviction. However, what rights do employers have if such activity is taking place offsite at a work gathering? With the Christmas season underway, it is perhaps a good time to dig into this further.
The annual work Christmas party is a festive tradition and a great opportunity to get dressed up and socialise with colleagues. However, it is important to remember that this is still an extension of the workplace and employers have the right to expect all staff’s behaviour to reflect this.
Perhaps it is worth pointing out that, what happens at the Christmas party doesn’t necessarily stay at the Christmas party. Employers have every right to hold their employees accountable for their actions. Importantly, employers should remember that they too can be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. It is paramount that they make it clear that even when offsite, the code of conduct still very much applies.
Whatever your personal preferences or opinions, taking illegal substances at work is an unequivocal no-no. Ergo, the Christmas party is also off limits. We are probably all agreed that it’s obviously not acceptable if you are operating heavy machinery during your next shift, if you are in a position of responsibility, or if your job relies on public trust; but it is equally unacceptable no matter what position you hold inside a business. Any illegal activity could constitute gross misconduct.
It is also worth mentioning, that perhaps a hard-line sacking may not always be the best course of action to take. Every situation is different, and employers have a duty of care to their staff. When dealing with alcohol or drug misuse at work, employers should consider striking a balance between using the disciplinary procedure for conduct-related incidents and providing support where individuals have acknowledged that they have a problem.
That said, such issues are relatively few and far between and most people tend to enjoy a jolly evening and bit of office gossip on the company tab without going too far overboard. If you are going ahead with your festive shindig perhaps just remind everybody that appropriate behaviour is expected, that the code of conduct still applies, and enjoy a few mulled wines together.
Brigitte Weaver, associate in the London employment department at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP