It’s always interesting reading through the BBC website and I recently came across a story from Scotland where a sheriff warned motorists that one drink can put them over the legal limit in Scotland.

It followed two cases at Dumfries Sheriff Court where the drivers involved claimed they had consumed just one pint.  They were both fined £450 and banned from driving for a year.  However had the same situation occurred in England, where the legal limit is higher they would not have committed an offence.

So this got me thinking about when I first started work and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but I remember in my first job most Friday’s we went to the pub at lunchtime for a quick drink.  From memory this often turned into more than one and we would head back to the office to inevitably sit at our desks, a little worse for wear and wait for 5pm to come round and off we went home, with no awareness from our employer of lack of productive work!

Now this type of thing doesn’t seem to happen so much these days.  Whether it’s because the cost of drinking has increased or we are all far more conscientious, I don’t know, but what it does lead me onto is the implications for employers when staff get together for work related social events.

I think that work socials are great.  They are an opportunity for colleagues to spend time together outside of work getting to know each other, helping build strong teams and also a way for employers to show appreciation to their staff for their hard work and contribution.  However, when the wine starts flowing sometimes it doesn’t always turn out as we intended.

Like with most things these days, it’s good to be clear on what our expectations are of our staff in certain situations and this is no different.  I am not sure if you are aware but as an employer you can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by your staff – even if the event is held off site and out of normal working hours.

The most likely claim is sexual harassment, but you should also be aware that, under the Equality Act 2010, protection from harassment also covers unwanted conduct on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.  As such, it’s a good idea to make sure your policy on harassment is up to date, and has been brought to the attention of all employees.  This provides some defence to a claim of harassment if it can be shown you took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from displaying that type of behaviour in the first place.

But what else can or should employers do to avoid problems arising from work-related social events?

It’s generally good practice to designate responsibility for supervising work-related socials to specific managers.  Give them guidelines on dealing with drunk or disorderly employees and obviously they need to make sure they themselves stay sober.

While you might want to give everyone a couple of free drinks on the night, remember a free bar throughout the night could encourage excessive drinking. Therefore it might be a good idea to limit the supply of free alcohol, and ensure a plentiful supply of low-alcohol alternatives, water and soft drinks.

You also have a duty of care to your staff and should think about how they will get home afterwards.  You can issue guidance in advance about not drinking and driving, and encourage staff to think about how they will get home.  You could hire coaches or minibuses to take people home afterwards or providing the telephone numbers for local taxi firms.

Yes, of course things can go wrong.  But if you do some thorough planning in advance and have a policy in place making clear the standards of behaviour you expect, you can avoid problems later and give your staff the motivational get together they deserve.

So if you want to make sure your staff socials go with a swing then get in touch.  We can arrange a review of your current documentation and make sure your not left exposed!