An extension of the workplace: Criminal liability at work social events

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Our Trainee Solicitor, Rhys Williams, looks at a recent story by the BBC

It is commonplace for civil actions to be taken against fellow employees or the employer for unlawful harassment under the Equality Act 2010, especially around the Christmas period. However, this case demonstrates that employees may not only be liable under civil law for their actions within the ‘workplace’ and have the prospect of losing their job, but also face criminal liability for more extreme cases.

Whilst it is unclear whether the employer has or will take any civil action against the employee in this case, the employer may suffer substantial reputational damage from the inappropriate behaviour of its staff. It is astonishing how an employee was allowed to behave like this in the first place without being challenged. This highlights the importance of employers instilling a culture that is averse to racism and other forms of discrimination and be willing to challenge it as and when it happens.

It’s good practice for employers to maintain a policy on workplace social events and communicate this and the values of the business to all employees. The duty of care for employees still exists at work social events and therefore employers should remind their employees that they are representing the business and are expected to act in a way which reflects these values.