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Office Christmas party warning

Employees wielding axes, toppling Christmas trees and fist-fights - office party season is well and truly under way.

Experts at Shropshire law firm Lanyon Bowdler say employers and their staff should be aware of the legal ramifications of trouble at the office Christmas party.

John Merry, head of employment law at Lanyon Bowdler, said he had dealt with the aftermath of a range of serious and bizarre incidents at festive social events.

“Over the years we have dealt with cases involving punch ups, the scaling and bringing down of a large Christmas tree, the trashing of hotel rooms and even an axe-wielding employee so there is plenty of reason for employers to beware.

“It stands to reason that the more alcohol is consumed, the more chance there will be that standards of behaviour will slip. For this reason, employers might be wary of offering a free bar - but not doing so when one has been provided before can be damaging to staff relations, and the alternatives can have their own dangers.

“Some staff events with high levels of drunkenness that I am aware of have had a cash bar - which encouraged many employees to drink more before their arrival. Similarly, a free bar for a limited time can encourage binge drinking. In contrast, a free bar, excluding shots for example, can actually result in more measured consumption.

“We would advise employers to remind staff in advance of a Christmas party that they want everybody to have a good time and as part of that, alcohol consumption will not be accepted as an excuse for misconduct.

“The key point is that a staff party, although usually outside working hours and away from the employer’s premises, will still be part of the ‘work environment’, which means the employer will be at risk of liability for employees’ actions.”