They have made R rated Hollywood movies about them, the internet contains lists detailing the “wildest stories” we have ever heard about them and cleaning up the potential employee relations fallout afterwards, keeps most Human Resource Managers waking up in cold sweats from around November each year. The year-end office party has gained the legendary status of being the epicenter of office debauchery and bad behaviour.
Where the rules regarding consumption of alcohol are relaxed, employees are quick to forget that all the remaining company rules remain in place. In some cases, it can present greater HR challenges than the rest of the year in that excess alcohol consumption results in a lack of inhibition. The era of social media and “tagging” now has the added possibility of making a company year-end party a PR scandal.
The most common forms of misconduct committed at year-end functions include insolence, damage to company property, inappropriate comments, fighting and sexual harassment. Employers must remember that employment laws are applicable even where an event takes place outside the workplace and working hours. In the sexual harassment case of Campbell Scientific Africa (Pty) Limited v Simmers and others  JOL 34906 (LAC), it was held that an employer is entitled to discipline an employee for misconduct which was both related to and impacted on the employment relationship and despite the incident occurring outside of the workplace and outside of working hours the court found that the seriousness of the employees misconduct to have made a future employment relationship impossible.
It must also be noted that although the company may have allowed for the consumption of alcohol or may have even provided it, the employee’s still have a duty to be responsible and adhere to all applicable company rules and regulations. Being under the influence of alcohol, although mitigating, is not a valid excuse to allow any misconduct during the function.
In light of these sorts of problems employers are well-advised to:
Make it clear to employees what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and the consequences of such misbehaviour. Employees must be aware of boundaries.
Keep an eye on social media. Implementing and promoting a social media policy ahead of time can ensure that staff understand what behaviour is acceptable or not.
Make employees aware of other policies such as bullying, harassment, discrimination and the general disciplinary code.
Take positive steps to promote responsible drinking and prevent employees from driving home after drinking.
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