HR Helpline Queries Part 3: Work Social Events

The FPM HR helpline sees hundreds of queries each year from practice manager members, some common and some not so common. In this third part of our new series of articles, our HR expert Ciara Burns looks at work social events.

The FPM HR helpline sees hundreds of queries each year from practice manager members, some common and some not so common. In this third part of our new series of articles, our HR expert Ciara Burns looks at work social events. 

Many of us look forward to social work events, whether it is a Christmas party or summer BBQ. These occasions provide an opportunity to strengthen team bonds and encourage better working relationships by spending time together outside of the regular work environment.

Often these events contribute to enhancing the organisational culture, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have experienced an extended period of remote work. As in-person social events make a comeback, including the much-anticipated office socials, it is reasonable to expect that most of these gatherings will go smoothly, apart from the occasional hangover the next day. What more could go wrong?

Everyone knows that employees are expected to behave in a certain way while at work - if they don’t there may be repercussions such as disciplinary action. Usually there are very few issues while people are at work, but there are incidents that can occur both inside and outside of the workplace. Employers should be aware that incidents that occur outside of work may be related to an individual’s employment (i.e. ‘’during the course of employment’’) and if any incidents do occur then the employer can be found liable.

ET caselaw - employer's duty of care at work events

In a recent employment tribunal case, a well-known UK property developer, Crest Nicholson was found liable for sexual abuse of an employee as the employer failed in their duty to protect their employee while at a work event. The incident occurred during an all-day Christmas party; the offender’s misconduct was publicly noticeable during the event, and he was not asked to leave even after another employee stepped in and confronted him about his misconduct. He did pose a clear and present danger, and no one reported the incident to managers who were also at the party. After the incident when the employee made a complaint, the offending employee contacted the employee twice to coerce her into staying silent. The employer argued that they should not be held responsible as the incident occurred outside of work, however the tribunal judge took a different view and ruled that the offender’s misconduct happened in the course of his employment, and found them liable for both sexual misconduct and the threatening messages sent.

Employers need to be aware that employees who are sexually harassed and/or assaulted during a work event can successfully make a claim that their employer is liable for the acts of their harasser. When an employer pays for an event, this strengthens the connection of the event being deemed as ‘’during employment’’. When your employees stop working and leave the building, an employer’s duty to protect their staff from harm does not stop there.

A perfect example is a Christmas party. In May of this year, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) issued a warning to employers to reduce the amount of alcohol at workplace gatherings after a CMI poll of 1,000 managers found that almost a third (29%) had witnessed harassment or inappropriate behaviour at office parties - another stark warning to employers.

Using a Social Events Policy

If social events are common within your Practice, it is important that you adopt protective measures such as a Social Events Policy (FPM members can access a Christmas Party Policy template, for example, by logging in to FPM Core). The policy acts as a reminder to employees of the need to act appropriately with respect to their colleagues and to drink responsibly - important aspects of protecting your employees. Organising an event that is not alcohol focused is another alternative and many are turning to activity days which centres on team building. These types of events have a significant reduced risk on the employer. Other protective measures such as offering alcohol-free beverages can help reduce the risk of drunk employees acting inappropriately; your employees should also be aware of what they need to do if they witness any inappropriate behaviour such as who to report it to during or after the social event.

To submit an HR query, email

Created by Ciara Burns
Ciara Burns
Ciara is the HR Consultant at FPM Group who writes and produces content on a wide range of topics such as HR best practices, employment law, recruitment, policies, and procedures.


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