Home » General » Misconduct At Year-End Functions

As the year draws to a close a number of companies tend to host parties for their employees as a way of appreciating their hard work throughout the course of the year and boosting their morale.

The end of year parties are an opportunity for employees to unwind and reflect on the year in a relaxed atmosphere.

In most cases there is free flow of food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and because of this, things sometimes get out of hand at these parties.

This sometime leads to a dilemma whether employers can discipline employees for misconduct at such functions and also whether employers may be liable to employees for misconduct by their co-employees, most often in the form of sexual harassment, verbal or physical abuse or assault to certain managers especially by subordinates.

With regard to the first issue, the basic rule is that an employee can only be disciplined for activities that occurred at work, or which has a direct bearing on his ability to carry out his duties.

The golden rule is that, to prove misconduct, the employer has to show that the employee was aware of the rule of standard that was allegedly breached.

Therefore, it is suggested that when employees are invited to any work-related functions, they are reminded that the normal disciplinary rules will apply.

Also, it is a good idea to include such a clause in the employee’s employment contract. Then there can be no argument as to whether the employee knew that normal disciplinary rules would apply at staff functions of whatever nature.

If no such reminder was given, one will have to consider the facts of the matter to enquire as to whether the employee indeed committed any misconduct.

Due to the relaxed atmosphere created by the social nature of the event, music and alcohol, employees and management alike often make the mistake of behaving in ways that they would not do during normal working hours.

This they do for many reasons including the mistaken beliefs that such behaviour is normal at parties nobody will mind because it is year-end people are more tolerant at parties, I can just say “I was drunk and meant it as a joke” the party is outside working hours and or away from the office so the rules don’t apply and on Monday nobody will remember what I did. These mistaken beliefs can turn a dream party into a nightmare for both employees and for the employer.

Employees and management are not, according to labour law or employment code of conduct, allowed to mistreat each other at company functions even if these are held outside normal working hours or away from the workplace.

Many people will not tolerate mistreatment even if it happens at a party and is “meant as a joke”. If the victim of the mistreatment has had a stressful year the mistreatment can be the last straw that causes him to react gly.

The second question is whether employers may be liable for misconduct by employees. There is one reported matter on this point, being the matter of Payten v Premier Chemical Industries. In this matter, the employer had held a year-end function for its employees. Payten might have flashed her brassiere at colleagues and the colleagues then proceeded to remove her shirt, fondled her breasts and attempted to remove her shorts.

She complained to her superiors, who laughed off the matter as being typical party fun. She resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.

The commissioner found that, even though Payten might have done something to provoke the sexual harassment, her colleagues were not justified in their behaviour and their conduct constituted an assault on her person and dignity.

The commissioner, therefore, found that there was constructive dismissal, and awarded maximum compensation of 12 months salary and the employer also had to pay her legal costs.

Therefore, to prevent this from happening to you, here are tips for preventing situations that could turn your good times into lawsuits.

Firstly, you need to choose the venue wisely.

Secondly there is need to restrict alcohol consumption.

Work with the caterer, restaurant or bar to limit the number of alcoholic beverages served to employees, (to ensure that they just get enough but not too much). Use drink tickets to help control consumption.

Thirdly, there is need to brief supervisors. Remind supervisors that work parties are an extension of the workplace and they need to respond to discrimination or harassment issues as they would do during the course of business.

Provide a brief overview to supervisors of company policies regarding the party, alcohol and sexual harassment.

There is need to investigate all complaints.

Failure to respond to complaints can lead to greater liability than what results from the alleged misconduct. Don’t dismiss any complaints associated with the organisation’s party without conducting a prompt and thorough investigation and taking remedial action if warranted.

Therefore, when you arrange or attend a year end function, whether it is during working hours or thereafter, remember that normal disciplinary rules still apply, and that your conduct in a moment of weakness or madness may have some very serious implications afterwards.

Therefore, do not take it as an opportunity to settle scores as you may end up in trouble or even losing your job.

Note also that this also applies to managers, as there are some managers who when under the influence of “waters of wisdom”, may start challenging or provoking subordinates, which may degenerate into chaos.

In a nutshell it should be noted that both employers and employees have a role to play at these functions as they can be costly to both.

Therefore, enjoy the party in the spirit of the party or else you will find yourself on the streets. Have a wonderful festive season!

Disclaimer: I do not accept any liability for any damages or losses suffered as a result of actions taken based on information contained herein. The information contained herein does not serve as alternative to legal aice and these views are personal.

Taurai Musakaruka is a Human Resources Practitioner. For feedback e-mail: tmusakaruka@gmail.com or tauraimusakaruka@yahoo.com

Source : The Herald

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