With the festive season upon us many of us will be attending work Christmas parties giving us the opportunity to celebrate and socialise with work colleagues. However, excessive alcohol consumption can make the Christmas party memorable for all the wrong reasons, leading to unwanted behaviour that would not be tolerated in the workplace.
Every year, our specialist Employment Solicitors deal with the repercussions of work Christmas parties, and our team handle an increase in harassment claims.
In this article, we explain what harassment is and what your rights are if you’re harassed at your work Christmas party.
What is Classed as Harassment?
Harassment is when an individual acts in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or intimidated. You may be subject to harassment when you’re at home, at work or in a public place.
Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is unlawful when the unwanted conduct is related to:
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Gender reassignment
While at work you may be a victim of physical, visual or verbal/written harassment relating to any of the above characteristics. Discriminatory comments or jokes about any of these characteristics don’t have to be directed towards you or intended to cause offence to be classed as harassment. If you overhear discriminatory comments, jokes or remarks or “work banter” is engaged in without intention to cause distress, it can still potentially be considered harassment.
An employer is liable for an employee’s behaviour at work and also at work events e.g., Christmas parties. Even if the Christmas party isn’t held on work premises an employer can be held liable for the behaviour as a result of “off-duty” conduct. An employee can be disciplined for their behaviour.
Employees are also protected from harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 where it doesn’t relate to a protected characteristic.
Types of Harassment at Work Christmas Party
Types of harassment that may occur at a work Christmas party, could be:
- Sexual Harassment – Unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which creates a hostile environment making you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated. It can be a one-off incident or ongoing behaviour. For example, flirting, gesturing or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing or appearance.
- Racial Harassment – Unwanted behaviour on the grounds of race, nationality, citizenship and ethnic/national origins, which violates your dignity and creates an intimidating environment. Examples of harassment include racist jokes, remarks or insults.
- Physical Harassment – Unwanted physical attacks or threats taking place in the workplace or at a work event unrelated to a protected characteristic. Examples include threatening behaviour or physical attacks such as hitting, pushing or kicking.
- Psychological Harassment – Unwanted and hostile words, behaviour or actions that are insulting, annoying or humiliating but unrelated to a protected characteristic. The behaviour must be repeated to constitute to harassment, and the victim’s psychology or physical health must be threatened, making the environment toxic. For example, belittling someone, spreading rumours or challenging everything an individual suggests.
What Can I Do If I am Harassed at the Work Christmas Party?
At work you have the right to be treated fairly and decently. This also applies to other events such as a work Christmas party. Employers and employees should treat the Christmas party as an extension of the workplace and conduct themselves appropriately.
If you’ve been harassed at a work Christmas party a complaint should be made to the employer. You should try to exhaust internal procedures to resolve the issues in the first instance, however, you should seek advice at an early stage as there are very tight time limits to pursue legal action (less than 3 months in Equality Act cases). It might be possible to make a claim for compensation for the harm done.
Contact our experienced Employment Solicitors on 033 3344 9603 to discuss making a harassment claim.
Specialist Employment Solicitors
Morrish Solicitors is a long-established law firm based in West Yorkshire providing a variety of legal services within the region and nationally. We have an experienced team of Employment Solicitors who are renowned for representing individuals of all backgrounds through our work for private clients, Unions, Associations and Professional Bodies and their members. Our solicitors have the knowledge and experience to assist and represent individuals on a range of employment matters.
As a trusted provider of legal services, our employment solicitors can support and advise you on a range of employment matters including:
- Unfair Dismissal and Wrongful Dismissal
- Protective Awards, Collective Redundancies and TUPE
- Settlement Agreements
- Contractions Disputes
- Employment Status
- TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings)
If you’d like advice on any of the above matters or you have another workplace issue you’d like to discuss, please contact our experienced Employment team on 033 3344 9603 or simply email [email protected] with the details of your request.
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