Is your team busy planning the company Christmas party? We’re seeing more and more businesses returning to traditional social events, as they would have done pre-pandemic. But how have employers’ responsibilities changed in managing social events, since the pandemic?
We take a look at the things employers need to know, ahead of the next company social:
Is a work social event considered part of employment?
To begin, we need to understand if and how a social work event is the continuation of employment, and therefore whether an employer’s usual liabilities apply, as they do within the workplace.
In the employment tribunal case of Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs, the judge ruled that work events are an extension of the workplace and so all usual employment law, and an employer’s own policies continue to apply.
However, further clarification that came from the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment guides us as to what point an employer is liable. In this case, an incident happened some hours after the annual Christmas party had finished.
Mr Bellman, a sales manager, went back to a local hotel with other colleagues, including the Managing Director, after the Christmas party. They continued drinking. The two men then had a disagreement about a work-related matter which resulted in Mr Bellman being assaulted by John Major, the Managing Director.
Mr Bellman fell and struck his head on the marble floor, where he was unconscious with blood coming from his ears, and he suffered severe brain damage, making him unlikely to be able to return to any paid employment.
He brought a claim against his employer, and in effect its insurers, rather than Mr Major personally. The Judge found that the company could have been liable if the assault had taken place during the party itself, but since it happened some hours after it had ended, during a private off-duty drinking session in a different location, Mr Major was not acting in the course of his employment or as the party host, and the company was not vicariously liable for his actions.
Under employment legislation, employers can be legally held responsible for certain actions of their employees despite the employer having technically done nothing wrong. It occurs when there is a sufficient connection between the wrongdoing and the employee’s job role.
This area of employment legislation is known as ‘vicarious liability’ and when an employer is found to be legally responsible for an employee’s actions, they must then compensate the victim of the incident.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of safeguarding people from infectious diseases within the workplace and forced businesses to take unprecedented steps to respond to the associated risks resulting from the virus. We saw employers and individuals take steps to ensure face to face contact with others either limited or removed entirely, depending upon the environment.
Of the COVID-19 measures, some were legally required whilst others were guidance only, but still strongly urged. It was not until Spring 2022 when all legally required measures were removed, however, the Government have ever since continued to advise adopting safe practices moving forward.
Post COVID-19, an employer’s legal obligation regarding infectious diseases remains the same as they did prior to the pandemic. The difference now, however, is that we have an additional infectious disease – COVID-19 that must be considered in the workplace.
Under health and safety laws, employers have a legal duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of everyone in the workplace and to make appropriate arrangements to ensure this. This duty does not just cover employees, but it also covers those who might be affected by the business, such as visitors, contractors, agency workers and customers.
H&S legislation also requires employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks to the lowest level and any failure to do so may be a criminal offence.
Your guide on what to consider when planning for in person work social events post COVID-19
As an inclusive employer, consider the type of event and venue to encourage as many people to attend as possible. Although there may still be employees who feel uncomfortable in returning to socialising in groups, consider the best approach to making the event available to all.
- Risk assessment. Even though employers are no longer legally required to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessment they may still choose to do so. We would still recommend doing so from an employee engagement perspective (it reassures those who may still be concerned or anxious and entrusts confidence in the employer). We also recommend considering COVID because there may be employees who are clinically vulnerable, and by considering the risks you can further reduce the risk level.
- Following on from this, it would be wise to identify if you do have any employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable as this will help in the planning of the event.
- Respect that some employees may choose to wear a face covering.
- Consider whether you can reduce the risks associated with close physical contact between attendees. Whilst you cannot completely remove this risk, depending upon the type of social event, you may be able to introduce limited social distancing.
- Can the venue have sufficient space for the number of attendees to be able to move around and social distance?
- Does the venue provide excellent hygiene standards? Most venues continue to provide hand sanitiser but checking out their facilities when finding a suitable venue is wise.
- Can the venue be outdoors? The chances of this over winter become less, although many places have adapted to allow for this (such as dining pods with limited numbers in each).
- Factor in that some venues may require ask for attendees to be vaccinated. Whilst this remains a contentious issue and could be risky from the perspective of discrimination claims and possibly vicarious liability for the employer (although may be low risk. See further on to find out more about vicarious liability).
- Is there a capacity with social distancing measures?
- Ensure your plans are sufficiently flexible if we see an increase in infection levels and potential further guidance and/or restrictions being introduced by the Government.
- Proper risk communication is vital to all attendees. Whilst for some employees, they may feel happy in returning to social activities following COVID, but there will probably continue to be some who still feel anxious.
- Effective communication in advance ensures that you have sufficient time before the event to address and concerns or queries.
In one of our recent HR webinars, we explored not only how an employer’s responsibilities in managing events may have changed since the pandemic, but also the wider considerations for employers when planning events.
In this webinar we have provided practical steps that an employer can take to help ensure a successful work event takes place.
If you would like to watch this webinar on demand, you can do so here.
Sign up to future topical HR and Health & Safety webinars, here.