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In addition to potential discrimination and harassment issues discussed last week, employers have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. This duty is likely to extend to social events associated with work where they are organised or hosted by management.
Employers have a duty to carry out an assessment of the risks that the workplace and its operations might pose to its employees and others. Again, if an event is closely associated with work (even if it takes place at an alternative location), this duty may still apply. Employers should therefore take steps to ensure the party venue does not present any health and safety risks, and that employees do not put themselves or other people at risk either during or after the party.
Employees should be notified of any particular hazards identified in advance. In addition, consider matters such as how employees will get home after the party. If they will not be driving, advise your employees to ensure they have made arrangements in advance to get home, for example by public transport or licensed taxi – and provide the numbers of local taxi firms.
Under health and safety legislation, employees themselves have a general duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of other people who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.
Finally, if an employee fails to attend for work the day after the Christmas party, employers are entitled to treat the unauthorised absence as a disciplinary matter. Warn employees beforehand that if they are absent from work without good reason, this will be treated as a disciplinary issue in much the same way as other types of unauthorised absence. It is more likely that an employee will phone in sick rather than simply failing to attend work.
While an employer might suspect that an employee is malingering or hung-over, it is important to clarify the reason for the employee’s non-attendance before acting against them. Clearly, if an employer has evidence to suggest the employee is not genuinely sick, they may treat the absence as a disciplinary matter. However, unfortunately, mere suspicion based on circumstantial evidence is not enough.
Andrew Macmillan, Solicitor, Motor Industry Legal Services