Christmas parties: duty to investigate misconduct
13 December 2018 #Other
While we are in the midst of Christmas party season, it is important that businesses focus on their responsibilities in connection to work social events, particularly when they involve alcohol.
As we blogged in October businesses can be liable for personal injuries caused by employees, even where the events took place at an impromptu after party following a staff Christmas event.
This month, an Employment Tribunal case (Phillips v Pontcanna Pub Company Limited) has graphically illustrated the employment law liabilities employers face in these situations.
While at the company Christmas party, Miss Phillips was placed into a headlock by a male colleague, causing her to lose consciousness, drop to the floor and sustain a head injury.
Immediately after the event she did not recall what had happened and, even when she had viewed the CCTV footage, she initially informed the employer that she did not want action to be taken against the colleague in question. Several months later, however, the injuries (which she ascribed to the incident) amounted to nerve damage and PTSD and she raised a grievance and reported the incident to the police.
The employer did not investigate the incident on its merits, did not adequately review the CCTV footage before deciding what action to take and did not uphold her grievance.
The tribunal decided that the business had failed to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserved and had instead formed a view that Miss Phillips needed to “get over it”. This was found to amount to constructive unfair dismissal.
The key lesson from this case is that where there are allegations of serious wrongdoing, an employer is duty-bound to investigate before deciding on the appropriate course of action, even when the alleged victim of an incident downplays the seriousness of the matter or states that they do not want action to be taken.
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