The return of work social events and potential issues for employers

Eloise Brennan

Eloise Brennan


With Covid-19 restrictions lifted, many employees are returning to the physical office and this provides the opportunity for the reintroduction of “in person” work-related social events. While socialising outside of work can be good for team engagement and morale and help develop personal relationships, it can also result in problems for the employer if employees conduct themselves inappropriately.

What are the consequences for an employer?

Employers should be aware that they can be found vicariously liable for the actions of their employees if they have been committed “in the course of employment”. This can extend to an employee’s actions at work-related social events, whether these are after work as part of a work-related social event or a more informal event organised by staff after work.

Company social events regularly involve alcohol and some employees may be less restrained in their consumption where they don’t have to pay for their drinks. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause employees to act differently than they would in a work setting and this can result in poor judgement and behaviour by the employee which has to be managed by the employer.

Poor employee behaviour reflects badly on the employer and can cause damage to an employer’s reputation. It is, therefore, important that employers take proactive steps to educate employees on the type of behaviour that is expected and the consequences of not meeting expected standards of behaviour.

What can an employer do?

An employer may have a defence to the wrongful acts of its employees, including discriminatory acts, if it can show that it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent its employees from participating in negative behaviour.

An employer should consider the following:
  • Implementing regular anti-bullying and anti-harassment training for employees
  • Having clear guidance (for example, a Behavioural Code of Conduct) on what is and is not acceptable behaviour at work and at client events and what the consequences are for failing to uphold such behaviour
  • Having an alcohol and drugs policy that is communicated regularly and before significant work social events
  • Providing guidelines for managers on how to deal with employees who are behaving inappropriately at social events
  • Providing non-alcoholic drinks at work events
  • Hosting social events that do not involve alcohol or, where alcohol is involved, limit the number of drinks an individual can have, for example, by giving each employee an allocated number of drinks tokens
  • Prior to work events, send out a communication reminding employees of the behaviour that is expected and consequences for failing to meet such standards
An employer will only be able to use the ‘reasonable steps’ defence if it can demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from acting in a discriminatory manner.

Having effective policies in place, making employees aware of them through regular training and providing clear guidance to employees on what is expected of them is key to minimising inappropriate behaviour at work social events.  

If you would like more information, either to out the right procedures in place or to help with a potential claim, please contact our Employment team.

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