Dealing with misconduct issues arising at Christmas parties
During the festive period, many managers and HR departments unfortunately find themselves faced with disciplinary issues arising from misconduct at the Christmas party. This blog post considers what action should be taken when companies experience difficult scenarios during work Christmas parties and how to resolve these.
A disciplinary issue that HR is often faced with over the festive period is physical altercations between employees at works functions. It’s important that, when such an issue arises, managers act in a reasonable way in order to resolve the situation.
It is often questioned whether, if an incident occurs outside of the workplace, it can be considered a disciplinary offence. As a general rule, if an incident occurred during a work related social function, this would fall within the remit of the incident being a work related disciplinary offence and therefore the company disciplinary procedure applies.
The first step might require a suspension of both individuals, particularly where the offence is linked to gross misconduct. The Company does have a responsibility to ensure that similar incidents don’t re-occur in the workplace and therefore it is likely to be necessary to suspend one or both of the employees whilst a full investigation takes place.
Once a suspension has been confirmed it is then important for the Investigating Officer to carry out a thorough investigation into the alleged misconduct in order to establish the facts of what happened. This is likely to involve speaking to the individuals concerned and other employees that witnessed the altercation. Depending on the circumstances, this might also involve investigation with the venue/organisers and obtaining independent witness reports from venue staff for example security staff, however this might not always be possible or necessary.
Once the investigations have been concluded and where it has been determined that there is evidence to support the allegations, both employees will need to be invited to disciplinary hearings before any outcomes are determined. Depending on the circumstances, the Chair could find different disciplinary outcomes for each employee where there is evidence to suggest that one employee was more responsible for the altercation than the other.
The outcome of the disciplinary proceedings is very much dependent on the facts of the individual case and the company’s disciplinary procedure. In most cases, physical violence is deemed to be an act of gross misconduct and therefore this is likely to lead to summary dismissal.
In some cases, employers try to take preventative measures by sending out memos prior to Christmas parties to remind staff of company policies with regard to dignity at work and bullying and harassment, employees could also be warned that although parties take place outside of working hours, they should treat individuals with the same level of respect that is generally expected whilst at work. Issuing such memos can provide employers with an added defence to prove they took steps to warn employees of the likely outcome of any unacceptable behaviour.