It is the time of year when employment lawyers will dust down their warnings on the risks which come with the Christmas party and how staff behave towards each other and members of the public.
The risks include allegations of sexual assault and possible liability for employers for the actions of their staff. Lloyds of London have sent an email to all staff warning them to be particularly careful. This is amid concerns around a male dominated culture and a survey commissioned by Lloyds which found eight per cent of workers had seen sexual harassment in the last 12 months.
Some may say these warnings are no longer needed, that there has been a culture shift as evidenced by the #MeToo Movement and a number of high profile cases. However, I suspect there will still be incidents around the country which are not acceptable and may amount to a criminal offence.
Just because it is a party and alcohol or other substances may be involved, an incident for which there can be no excuse will not be forgotten/forgiven by the morning after. Allegations can surface months or even years later with evidence often available in the form of mobile phone footage etc.
As far as the publicity shy employer is concerned, a settlement agreement cannot be used to cover up what on some occasions can be a serious sexual assault.
Professional services firms (including lawyers) are affected by this as much as any other company and with law firms the Solicitors Regulatory Authority may bring a case, with the possibility of severe sanctions.
These events do still occur and will happen this year, particularly where alcohol and drugs might be involved. Part of the unfortunate make up of these incidents is that they often involve senior managers and junior members of staff who are understandably anxious about their future in the organization.There is an” imbalance of power”.
It does not take much for one of these incidents to amount to a sexual assault leading to arrest, an interview under police caution and all that may follow. There will also be highly negative publicity for the company and perpetrator, loss of a job, negative impact on family life and most importantly the impact on the victim.
Companies do have a responsibility in these cases and cannot just rely on the way society is changing. Employees at all levels should be reminded about the need for respectful behaviour when with colleagues on any occasion. This also involves keeping an eye on those who might be drinking too much and whose actions might cross the line.
Iain Jenkins (McCormicks Solicitors)