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News //
Hong Kong Employment Law Alert - December 2017
Submitted by // K Bowers, Partner / Solicitor Advocate; P Yeung, Senior Associate
07 December 2017

 

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS…MY JOB BACK!

The office Christmas party is a highly spirited event, and a great opportunity for staff at all levels to mingle and have fun, but both employers and employees should bear in mind that the office Christmas party is primarily a professional workplace event. 

With daily salacious and sensational news stories about inappropriate conduct and behaviour in the workplace attracting world-wide public and media attention, and leading to inevitable and irreparable reputational damage to both individuals and companies alike, this seasonal Alert sets out our 'top tips' for ensuring a trouble-free office Christmas party.

Tis the Season to be Jolly (within limits)

Yes, do have a few drinks. Although at most work Christmas parties, alcohol is free-flow (and often good quality), this is an offer, not a challenge.

An office Christmas party is primarily a professional workplace event. Moaning about office systems, or complaining about your boss (to your boss!) is behaviour that will not be forgotten at the office the next day.

That said, employers should be wary about the consequences of providing free-flow alcohol at work functions. In a recent case in the UK, the Fair Work Commission emphasised that employers cannot hold their employees to the same standard of conduct at work functions where the employer provides unlimited alcohol. This has consequences for the contentious issue of when an employee's intoxicated conduct at a work function will justify dismissal. Employers should therefore carefully consider how alcohol is served at work functions.

Prior to the Christmas party, employers should clearly distinguish between official work functions (the Christmas party itself) and other functions (the -often infamous- "after party") which they consider will occur in a private social setting, so as to avoid liability for any after-hours shenanigans in Lan Kwai Fong or Soho.

I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus

The office Christmas party is not the place for office romance. Be professional and don't cross any (personal or other) boundaries which you would not cross in the office.

Even at the office Christmas party, employers remain liable for acts of harassment, discrimination, assault or other unwanted conduct of their employees. If these types of allegations are made during or after the party, employers should follow their usual disciplinary process and properly investigate the complaint before any action is taken.

Consequently, mistletoe is best avoided…

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

The office Christmas party is not the venue to conduct staff appraisals or to make promises in relation to Christmas bonuses or pay rises in the New Year. Even informal comments on staff performance may be misconstrued, and could eventually lead to unwanted and unintended disputes.

In one UK case, an employee claimed that his boss had indicated at the office Christmas party that he would receive a pay rise "in due course". After the Christmas party, the employee's salary stayed the same, and the employee soon resigned and filed a claim for constructive dismissal. Although the employer won the case, this was only because the nature of the promise was too vague.

Raunchy Mr/Mrs Claus

Check the dress code.

You don't want to be the person wearing jeans and a Bridget Jones' Christmas sweater when the rest of the room is in black-tie. Make sure you know the dress code by checking in advance what your colleagues are wearing, and follow suit.

If your office Christmas party is fancy dress, do not use this as an excuse to wear that Princess Leia bikini top or Chippendales costume you bought for Halloween.

Use your common sense!

I'll Be Home for Christmas…?

Employers should consider party logistics. If the party is during a weekday after work (which is usually the case), employers should arrange transport from the office to the party venue.

If possible, employers should also consider how employees will get home after the party. If alcohol is served, employers should be mindful about drink driving so it is a good idea to provide transport home at the end of the event. If this is difficult or impractical to arrange (as it invariably will be), employers should send out an email to all staff on good practice before the Christmas party so as to discourage drink driving.

#Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Despite the festive atmosphere at the office Christmas party, Facebooking about your supervisor's very annoying overuse of an annoying phrase (for instance) may drop you in hot water, or could end up with you finding yourself with a mountain of paper-work as your surprise Christmas present. Either way, mixing social media with work (especially the office Christmas party) is a very, very bad idea.

Seeing as problems with social media in the workplace are becoming increasingly common, many staff handbooks should be updated to include a comprehensive policy on what is, and is not acceptable for employees to post online. Employers should make sure that the staff handbook is up-to-date and if possible, circulated (by way of a gentle reminder) to all employees shortly before the Christmas party.

Happy Hanukkah

Both employers and employees should be culturally sensitive, and respectful of employees who, for whatever reason, may not want to drink, and make sure that there are plenty of alcohol-free alternatives.

Christmas is a Christian holiday, so employers should be mindful of different ways of celebrating the holiday season.

O Holy Night

A hangover (and last night's acute embarrassment) are not good reasons for calling in sick. Employees calling in sick the morning after the office party may be considered guilty of an unauthorised absence.

That said, if the Christmas party is held on a weeknight, employers should not expect Christmas miracles the next morning. Employers should be clear about expectations at the office the next day, the extent to which lateness will or will not be allowed, and what disciplinary action will be taken if these expectations are not met.

The Grinch who Stole Christmas

Most importantly, go to the party!

Although the office Christmas party is usually an optional event, the reality is that no one likes a Grinch and not attending the office Christmas party will not present well to other colleagues.

With all that in mind, have a very merry (and responsibly PC) Christmas!


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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is intended to be a general guide only and is not intended to provide legal advice.  Please contact pr@hwbhk.com if you have any questions about the article.