What are my rights if I have been accused of inappropriate conduct at our Christmas party?

What are my rights if I have been accused of inappropriate conduct at our Christmas party?

December is often a busy time for all types of employers and employees. If you work in retail, you will no doubt be swamped with the Christmas rush to ensure maximum profits are made during the festive season. You and your employer are likely to be stressed and working at a maximum capacity to ensure that your clients and customers receive the best quality products and advice which you supply and before looming deadlines arrive. There are few industries which are unaffected by the festive season and for many, it is a welcomed conclusion to a year of hard work.

If you are lucky enough to attend a work Christmas function, it is important that you conduct yourself in an appropriate manner at all times. It is easy to have one drink too many, and your subsequent conduct may be severely damaging to your continued employment should you act in an inappropriate way. Too many a tale of Christmas party scandals circulate swiftly through offices and you may be at risk of disciplinary action from your employer.

If it is your task to organise your work Christmas party, you should be careful not to provide your staff members with too great a supply of alcohol. Similarly, you should ensure that you do not drink to excess and take the risk of any potential alcohol-fuelled inappropriate behaviour. Your bullying and harassment policies will also apply to your conduct at work functions. What you perceive as courage to express you true feelings regarding your boss or colleague might simply be an alcohol induced misjudgement.

In particular, you should remember that what you deem as friendly may be misconstrued as harassment and misconduct in the eyes of your employer’s policies and procedures. Simply being outside the office does not make you immune to the application of your employer’s rules. For many, there is a direct link between alcohol and a change in personality and workplace disputes may escalate and become inflamed as a result.

Your office Christmas party may be the highlight of your workplace social calendar, and a real opportunity for you and your employer to celebrate your year of success. However it can lead to dire consequences for you and your employer should celebrations be engaged in with overt enthusiasm. While many approach the festive season with excitement, the sudden downturn in the global economy means that many embrace Christmas time with trepidation and face the potential loss of their job.

You should not underestimate your potential liability for your actions. Even the chummiest of workplaces may lead to disciplinary proceedings and problems may be escalated because of the rise of smart phones and social networking.

It is reasonable for your employer to advise you of your rights and obligations prior to any work function. This may include that:

– You are required to adhere to company procedures and policies;
– You should consume alcohol responsible and not drive home;
– You should take proactive steps to ensure you have safe transport available to you, such as a designated driver;
– You should ensure that you exercise a duty of care towards your colleagues to prevent any discrimination, harassment or injuries which may occur as a result of an over-consumption of alcohol.

Sexual Harrasment

A common complaint which may arise from your workplace Christmas party is that of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can often arise at work functions as your colleagues sensitivities may easily be offended with the content of conversations which occur in a relaxed environment. You may find that even a reasonable and limited consumption of alcohol may lead to your inhibitions becoming relaxed and as such you may make statements, or begin conversations, which are not workplace appropriate. You should remember that the sexual harassment occurs when conduct of a sexual nature occurs, and it is unwelcome or offensive to an individual present. If your conduct could be considered objectively to be offensive, humiliating or intimidating, you may have engaged in sexual harassment.

Your conduct does not have to be directed towards that person, and as such it is easy to offend a colleague. You may then find yourself embroiled in disciplinary proceedings because of complaints made against you. Some examples of behaviour which may constitute sexual harassment includes hugging, touching or kissing; suggestive comments or jokes and unwanted invitations for romantic or sexual relationships.

Traditionally, any conduct which you engage in outside of the workplace and working hours has not been considered the business of your employer, and on this basis you could not be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. However there has been a recent shift towards an increasing ability of employers to control the private conduct of their employees.

You may even find yourself subject to a sexual harassment claim if you are being bullied in your workplace. Christmas parties and work functions provide ammunition for opportunistic sexual harassment and misconduct complaints to be filed against you, particularly if you are having personality conflicts with a colleague or manager in your workplace. You should be cautious to drink in moderation and not exceed one standard drink per hour so that your memory is fully functioning to counteract any false allegations against you. An alcohol impaired memory may lead your employer to conclude as to your guilt for any allegations, simply because you cannot offer a plausible explanation or alternative version of events to the evening. If you have engaged in misconduct at a work event, find yourself subject to allegations of misconduct or have suffered discriminatory or harassing conduct from a colleague or your boss, you should contact an expert in workplace law as soon as possible to ensure that you fully enforce your workplace rights.

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