Bah Humbug – Lessons From The Christmas Party

Advice, All Members

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that every January, we receive calls from members being investigated for their alleged misconduct (or gross misconduct – that is misconduct justifying dismissal) at their office Christmas parties. Allegations have included:

Excessive drinking

Fighting between staff
Fighting with members of the public 
Criminal damage 
Illegal drug use
Sexual misconduct
Offending customers
General behaviour that could bring the employer’s name into disrepute…

we’ve seen it all!

Don’t Expect Any Leniency

Christmas is a wonderful time to let your hair down and enjoy yourself after a hard year’s work, but not at the expense of your job. One night of revelry could easily lead to unemployment in January!

Some managers are pragmatic and accept that we’re all human beings, but even if managers are sympathetic, their businesses will usually adopt a ‘holier than thou’ approach to even trivial matters. The harshest sanctions are often applied: i.e. people are sacked.

Your Colleagues

Numerous sociological studies have pointed to the fact that most conflict at work is between employees rather than between employees and their employers. So, it’s hardly surprising that in many situations the key witnesses against staff are other staff attending the same functions.

Whilst facts are facts, interpretation of actions vary and people with scores to settle are unlikely to paint their victims’ behaviour in the best light. Don’t assume that when the investigations start you will receive the support of your colleagues!

Alcohol and Prescription Drugs

Most people manage their alcohol consumption sensibly but alcohol tends to be the fuel for the sort of behaviours I’ve listed above and a large number of cases have involved the interaction between sedatives or painkillers and alcohol.

People charged with misconduct have often expressed surprise at the side effects they suffered as a result of the combined use of drink and some prescription drugs and argued that this should be a mitigating factor (something that justifies more lenient treatment) in their disciplinary cases.

The argument almost always fails to convince hearing managers.

If You’re A Manager

If you’re a manager please bear in mind the unpalatable reality, that you may not been top of everyone’s Christmas card list. We have seen innumerable cases of score-settling against managers over the last three years and office parties represent just the sort of environment that gives rise to allegations. We suggest you’re careful with what you say and do.


Hopefully, we won’t receive many, if any, calls post-Christmas parties this year but if issues arise you need to contact us immediately, not in a panic on the morning of the investigation meeting that will inevitably follow. That way we can do our best to help you deal with the issues that will arise.

Remember, you should not attend an investigation meeting without us. Whilst most investigating managers behave with integrity some don’t and we frequently see employers break their own policies on fairness in investigations. All too often members allow themselves to be represented as admitting things they did not do. Whilst recording of police interviews has stopped the process of ‘verballing’ suspects (putting words in their mouths) the practice is alive and well in disciplinary investigations. Go into an investigation meeting unaccompanied on a serious issue and you are likely to be nailing up your own coffin.

If you are going to need our help we would like to hear from you as soon as a problem arises. Contact the Union’s Advice Team 24/7 on 01234 716005 (Choose Option 1).

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