Christmas turkey

28-12-2004

Discussing work at the Christmas party could land you in trouble.

Imagine the situation. You�re the manager of a recruitment company and you�ve just come back from the office Christmas party unable to remember what you did or said.

Fighting off a sweaty, shaky hangover, you check your email inbox, only to find messages about conversations of which you have no recollection. Most of them are about the usual Christmas party nonsense, apart from one, which has �pay rise� in its subject box.

To your horror, one of your junior employees is demanding a ?1,000 per year pay rise, and you don�t even remember offering it.

Law firm Glaisyers has warned employers not to get too carried away at their Christmas party and find themselves in this kind of fix. Bosses offering pay rises to staff that they might regret in the cold light of day could lead to legal claims, according to Glaisyers solicitor Russell Brown.

His warning follows a recent case where an employee claimed for constructive dismissal as the pay rise his drunken employer offered at the end of the company�s annual dinner dance failed to materialise.

Although an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) eventually upheld an employment tribunal�s earlier decision that the verbal offer was non-enforceable, Brown warns that bosses have to be on their guard. The employer was lucky that other factors turned the tribunal panel�s decision in his favour, says Brown.

He warns: �In this particular case the EAT held that the original promise was not contractually enforceable and was part of a conversation that took place within the context of a social event. There is also the fact that the individual did receive a pay rise of over ?10,000 which, though it wasn�t the amount promised, did go some way towards softening the EAT�s view.�

Adrian Marlowe, managing director of Lawspeed, a legal firm specialising in the recruitment industry, warns that discussing business should be strictly off-limits at the Christmas bash: �In the euphoria of the moment, don�t discuss business issues in any serious way,� he urges.

But it�s not just drunken promises that can get employers into trouble. �The office Christmas party is a potential banana skin for company bosses and has in recent years been the source of a large number of sexual discrimination cases,� says Brown.

Recruitment agencies could also be vulnerable to employment claims from temps if they are invited to the Christmas party. This could lead to further costly employment rights claims if the situation gets out of hand. �It is very important that an agency treats its agency workers differently from its regular employees at all times, unless they are actually employees of the agency,� says Marlowe.

A simple way round this could be to have two separate parties, for agency workers and the agency�s own staff. This will minimise the risk of a temp wrongly thinking that being invited to a Christmas party means he or she is an employee.

Employment claims by temps are on the increase, Marlowe claims, and taking small steps like this could prevent agencies becoming involved in costly legal battles.

Richard Staines
RECRUITER

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