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The festive season is over, and employers are breathing a small sigh of relief.
If they have heeded pre-Christmas warnings from employment lawyers nationwide, they will have been on high alert during their celebrations. Having been vigilant for signs of unwanted lechery, thwarted the photocopying of naked body parts, inspected dark corners for inappropriate behaviour and ensured that the excessively inebriated have been placed in cabs home for their own safety and that of others, the start of January should herald the return to business as usual.
Or does it?
While the party season (a traditional period of heightened risk for inappropriate behaviour) is over, an employer’s duty to be vigilant for such behaviour, and to prevent it if it can, is an all-year-round obligation. The employer’s equal opportunities policy and its anti-harassment and anti-bullying policy do not just apply for just 3 weeks out of 52.
Any work-related event (whether it be a social event to promote staff welfare, loyalty and engagement or a client event to promote and market the business), where alcohol is involved or otherwise inhibitions are lowered there are higher risk points for inappropriate behaviour.
Habits of banter, pranks, jokes and teasing which are more likely to arise on a day-to-day basis in less formal environments such as a staffroom or a warehouse can be or can develop into behaviour that may be offensive to others.
Day-to-day working relationships can evolve into something more which may ultimately cross a line or cloud the judgment of a manager or an employee as to the suitability of their behaviour.
For that reason, discrimination is not just for Christmas and employers should not drop their guard or their standards of employee protection now that the festive period is over. Grievances and discrimination claims are stressful, time-consuming and expensive to deal with for all parties involved, whatever time of year they arise.