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Company parties and alcohol: risks and tips

Publication date: 20 December 2016
Celebrating the end of the year with a Christmas party for your employees is a fine tradition. Unfortunately, this can also lead to unpleasant legal problems. How can you prevent that?

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Celebrating the end of the year with a Christmas party for your employees is a fine tradition. Unfortunately, this can also lead to unpleasant legal problems. How can you prevent that?

Drinking at company parties

Most problems occurring during or after company parties are caused by heavy drinking.

This was clearly reaffirmed this month in a case on dismissal with immediate effect after a corporate Christmas party. A drunk employee ended up in a heated discussion with the director. Afterwards, a few colleagues had advised the employee to go home. The employee did not follow the advice. On the contrary, at the end of the night he waited for the director, threatened him and tried to hit him. The director dismissed the employee instantly with immediate effect. The Court of Appeal decided that this was appropriate, even though the employee had been in service for 25 years and had diabetes and therefore could not handle alcohol well.

Dismissal due to alcohol abuse

Though alcohol abuse may be a reason for dismissal with immediate effect, this is not always the case. For instance, the abuse of alcohol could be an effect of an illness or a one-time incident, which does not outweigh many years of exemplary performance. In addition, the position of the employee may also play a significant role.

Employer’s liability

Due to alcohol abuse, employees may cause damage. Besides, employees may incur personal injuries. In some cases the employer will be liable for this damage.

The criterion for employer’s liability is whether the employee causes or incurs damage during the performance of his or her tasks. ‘Performance of the tasks’ must be understood in a broad sense. Employers can also be liable for damage incurred during company parties organised on locations other than the workplace.

“Sick” after a company party

If the office Christmas party takes place on a night before a working day, employees may call in sick the following day. The question is whether the employees are actually sick or just hung over. As an employer, you have the right to provisionally not accept a sickness report.

To prevent conflicts, it is recommended to take action at an early stage. Make clear to the employees that it will be possible to take a day off and point out the consequences of a sickness report due to a hangover after the company party. You can also allow employees to start an hour later.

Tips for organising company parties

  • Establish an alcohol policy.
  • Communicate clearly what will be considered improper conduct and what the consequences of such conduct will be.
  • Point out the social media policy so that not all party details will be all over the Internet later.

More information

Would you want us to draft an alcohol policy and/or a social media policy? Would you like to get more information or tips about the legal risks at corporate Christmas parties and other company parties? Would you like more advice on what consequences you can apply to the improper conduct of employees? Please contact us:

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