Be on your best behaviour at your work Christmas party

5th December 2023

Thanks to social media, your behaviour at any work-related party could be posted to a global audience in seconds. An organisation’s reputation could be tarnished and an individual’s career could be substantially affected by the sharing office party antics online.

Whether the party is in or out of the office, it should be treated as an extension of the workplace, with both employers and employees conducting themselves appropriately. As we know, this does not always happen, and an employer or employee can find themselves the subject of a variety of claims, including sexual harassment.

Charlotte Ellis, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, looks at the rules surrounding the office Christmas party…

Do the normal rules of gross misconduct apply at an office Christmas Party?

Yes, they do. Whether the party is in or out of the office it should be treated as an extension of the workplace, so the same rules will apply. An act of gross misconduct is potentially serious enough to fundamentally breach the contract between employer and employee and justify summary dismissal.

Futhermore, if the employer hosts an event, they can potentially be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees if those actions are deemed to have been committed in the course of employment. It may be advisable for an employer to remind all employees of their responsibilities in advance.  

Common examples of Christmas party gross misconduct are serious insubordination, harassment, and damage to company property. This list is not exhaustive, and if there is an incident which is sufficiently closely connected to work, and will likely impact on the working situation, the employer will likely be able to start a disciplinary investigation regarding the matter.

Invitations to the party

Many employees may not celebrate Christmas for religious or other reasons. Employers should be cautious to not exclude these employees from the party or any festivities.

Furthermore, some employees may not consume alcohol, its recommended that soft drinks are accessible as an alternative to alcohol. The same applies to any dietary requirements.

Consideration should be given to the timing of the event to try and accommodate for all employees. If the event is outside of working hours it should be made clear that attendance is voluntary, and that no one should feel obliged to attend the party.

If any photos or videos are taken during the party, who owns the copyright?

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides that the author of a photograph is the person who creates it. The person who takes the photograph/video will own the copyright unless the photo/video was created by a person in the course of their employment. In this case the copyright will be owned by the employer. See below also on permission to use.

Can I have any photos/videos removed from social media or stop them being shared?

In UK law there is generally no right to privacy where an image/video is taken in a public place. In a case involving the model Naomi Campbell, the court determined that the publication of photographs taken in public would only be prevented if they were obviously private or were offensive in some other way. This would include a person being caused humiliation or severe embarrassment.

Most social media platform policies state that while the creator of a photo/video is the owner, they grant a licence to that platform to use or allow others to use that content once it is uploaded.

Due to a lack of privacy laws, the courts generally rely upon decisions in previous cases for their findings. Publication of photographs can be prevented if they were commissioned to be taken but were then used for an unauthorised purpose. 

The author of the photo/video would need to delete the photo/video from their social media account for it to be removed. However, if the photo/video has been shared by another user on the social media platform it is unlikely that it can be removed.

Can I insist thet pictures or videos are permanently deleted, and how would I go about this?

If the photos/videos belong to an individual, it is highly unlikely that you could get them removed from social media, especially if the photo/video has already been viewed/shared.  The legal recourse available to prevent or remove this content would be a court injunction, a court order for return or destruction, or damages by way of financial compensation.

However, if the content belongs to an employer, an individual can request that any photos of video of them in the employer’s possession are permanently deleted or removed, thanks to the “right to be forgotten” under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Christmas Party – DOs and DON’Ts

Generally, Christmas parties can be an opportunity for employees to let their hair down and relax. However, it should not be forgotten that what happens at a Christmas party does not always stay at the party.

DOs for Employers
  • Invite all employees to the party even if absent through sickness, maternity or paternity leave;
  • Remind employees of the company’s expectations and be clear on what will be considered inappropriate behaviour;
  • Try to control the amount of free alcohol and make sure food and non-alcoholic drinks are provided, while catering for all dietary needs;
  • Be prepared to deal with any inappropriate behaviour in line with company policy, and be consistent in how you apply the policy;
  • Avoid discussions about career prospects or remuneration with employees;
  • Consider nominating a member of management to refrain from alcohol at the event in order to deal with any emergencies or incidents that arise and to monitor underage employees;
  • Ensuring that the venue chosen is accessible for all – for example, disabled employees;
  • Remind employees it is still a work related event and a certain level of professionalism is still expected;
  • Take a consistent approach to disciplinary action for unacceptable absenteeism post-party, but remember that people do genuinely get ill at this time of year;
  • Consider if there are policies in place regarding the use of social media in the workplace and ensure all employees are aware of these polices; and
  • Consider whether there is a legitimate reason to carry out any such monitoring.
DON’Ts for Employees
  • Forget you are effectively still ‘at work’, so conduct yourself accordingly;
  • Drink too much so that you do not know what you are doing;
  • Get involved in office gossip or office ‘banter’ which could be considered offensive;
  • Try to discuss why you should have a pay rise with your manager;
  • Make any unwelcome advances or gestures – sexual or otherwise; or
  • Become violent or aggressive.
Need more help?

DAS UK customers have access to templates and guides on dashouseholdlaw.co.uk. Whether you want to challenge an employment decision, apply for flexible working rights, contest a parking ticket or create a Will, DAS Householdlaw can help.

You can access DAS Householdlaw by using the voucher code in your policy provider’s documentation.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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