Closing the year together with your colleagues at the Christmas drinks is a tradition in many companies. However, case law shows that the holiday season can also be a source of legal problems.
Before the party can begin, the Christmas decorations must of course be hung up. As an employer, make sure that the decorations are hung up safely! An employee fell seriously while hanging a Christmas card during working hours. The employer was then held liable by the employee for the personal injury. The judge did not agree, as there had been no breach of the Health and Safety Act and it had been an unforeseen and unfortunate combination of circumstances. The judge concluded that the employee had not been sufficiently vigilant and that the employer could not be held liable.
Once all the lights are up, it is time for the drinks. Case law teaches us that anything can happen at such a get-together. Since the #MeToo movement, we will have to look at this with a different perspective, won't we?
The subdistrict court that had to rule on the immediate dismissal of an employee who had behaved inappropriately at a Christmas party by belittling a colleague and touching her bottom, thought differently. This was an isolated incident involving an employee who had always performed his duties satisfactorily over a 40-year period of employment. The conclusion of the employer that the dismissal "fits in the context of the current #MeToo discussion" was considered by the sub district Court to be too quick and did insufficient justice to the circumstances of this case.
A very different type of incident at a Christmas drinks party got the relationship between an employee and his future manager off to a very bad start. The employee indicated that the bar would be serving a final round because the agreed budget had run out, whereupon the prospective manager patted or slapped the employee on the cheek. Not surprisingly, this was not appreciated and in the following period the relationship between the two people soured. The organisation has made great efforts to restore trust, but it seems to the judge that the employee concerned does not wish to reach a lasting solution. The judge concludes that the affected employee is mainly to blame for the (continuation of the) disrupted relationship and dissolves the employment contract, awarding moderate severance pay (application of the old subdistrict court formula).
And even if you now think, with all the coronagraphs, 'we'll postpone the party until the beginning of next year so that we can have dinner and party together again', be aware that, as an employer, you can also be responsible for your employees if you celebrate outside the door.
Out together, home together
Quite unexpectedly, the Christmas party turns into a legal snake pit. So employers, take good care of your employees! Employees, stay alert and treat your colleagues decently!
Especially at the company parties, the adage remains: "Enjoy, but drink in moderation". If it gets too cosy, take a taxi home.
On behalf of everyone at Bolder Advocaten, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For legal questions we are also available between Christmas and New Year's Eve.