The festive season is upon us and, as always, it’s that time of year when things start to get a little merrier for everyone, not least because of the up and coming parties, drinks receptions and dinners.  However, as we embark on the most sociable time of the year, Solve have a few helpful tips to ensure that Employers don’t end up with a business headache after the party.

Promoting Inclusivity

Christmas is all about celebrating, letting your hair down and enjoying this special time with friends, family and colleagues.  However, it is important for Employers to remember that not everybody celebrates Christmas and in organising social get-togethers and Christmas parties, Employers must not discriminate against other Employees of different religions or beliefs. Likewise there may be childcare issues that prevent some Employees from attending social events therefore Employers should act sensitively and take care that Employees do not feel excluded or uncomfortable by being obliged to attend.  If budget allows, perhaps celebrations can be split into a day and evening event, where Employees can choose to attend either, both or none of these events depending on their circumstances.

It would also be advisable for those Employers who do throw their Employees a big festive bash to adopt a sensible approach to the party. In order to do this, ensure that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks available to everyone. You may also wish to consider capping the level of free or discounted drinks. Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their Employees and therefore you should also give some thought to ensuring that employees get home safely if you are aware that they are drinking. In particular, make sure that they do not drink and drive after a party.

Ensuring Appropriate Conduct and Behaviour

Co-worker ‘punch-ups’ and other threatening behaviour at office parties are the main offences committed that may require disciplinary action. Other offences relate to harassment, bullying and other types of discrimination on grounds of sex, race, sexuality, religion, disability or age.  Employers are potentially vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts or comments of their Employees, even when at social events. Therefore, Employers should remind all of their Employees of the need for acceptable behaviour.

However, despite best intentions, after a few sociable drinks, things can get heated and what would be seen as a flippant remark can be taken out of proportion. Should any trouble ensue it is best to act calmly, send Employees home and deal with things the following day. It might even be advisable to designate a manager who will not be drinking to deal with any unexpected displays of Christmas spirit.

Setting Expectations

You may also wish to forewarn Employees that disciplinary action will also be taken in the event of non-attendance at work the following day or if they attend work late or still under the influence, as a result of over indulgence. Obviously, if this is to happen, it is important to consider this approach across the board. However, be mindful of being discriminatory.  There may also be genuine reasons for absence, relating to illness or disability and therefore a fair and thorough investigation will need to be undertaken prior to any disciplinary action being taken.  You should use your existing policies relating to Absence and payment for absence as a point of reference, seeking advice as required.

Dealing with Complaints Effectively

It is essential that you ensure that you deal with all complaints received, speedily and fairly. Equally, if either yourself, or your Managers/Directors witness inappropriate behaviour or conduct you must deal with this swiftly. Any failure to act could result in claims for discrimination at an Employment Tribunal. It is also important to ensure that you adhere to fair procedures and that at the very least you follow your own internal disciplinary procedures. Failure to undertake an adequate investigatory and disciplinary process could further result in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Follow your own Policy and Processes

In advance of referring to them, it would be a good idea to check and update your current policies and procedures, particularly relating to Absence Management, Equal Opportunities, Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment, Drug and Alcohol misuse and Disciplinary and Grievance.

For more guidance contact Solve on 0131 300 0433


Since age discrimination legislation came into force in 2006, there has been a steady increase in the number of cases.  The law is now contained in the Equality Act 2010 and covers the entire life of the employment relationship.

With the government recently appointing the economist and policy expert Dr Ros Altmann CBE as business champion for older workers, it is crucial for businesses to understand the implications of the legislation.  Courts and tribunals accept that evidence of age discrimination is quite rare and if a claimant can show that discrimination may have occurred, the burden of proof will switch to the employer to prove it did not discriminate.  To that end, it is crucial that employers can show why they made a particular employment decisions in case they are forced to prove that they did not discriminate.  Consistent, transparent and well-documented decision-making is, therefore, essential.

Below is a snap shot of some of the main points in avoiding age discrimination:

  • Retirement – Setting a retirement age is unlawful unless it can be objectively justified (which may be difficult depending upon the circumstances).
  • Managing performance – Ensure that the performance of all workers, whatever age and however senior, is managed in a transparent, consistent and well-documented way.
  • Recruitment – Avoid indirectly discriminatory criteria or language in job and person specs.
  • Benefits – Review your insured benefits and pension schemes to ensure they comply with the law and assess any increased costs of including older workers.
  • Insured benefits – Stopping the provision of insured benefits when an employee reaches 65 is lawful, but it may not be lawful to continue and then stop them at an older age, e.g. 70.
  • Redundancy – Enhanced schemes can only take age into account in a limited way. Check that yours complies.
  • Training – Make sure that equal opportunities training covers ageism – and that recruiters and performance managers know the rules.

For further advice on policies which avoid age discrimination and advice on transparent decision making, contact Solve.

NHS recently predicted that if present trends continue half of the population could be obese by 2030.

In the recent case of Walker v SITA Information Network Computing Limited the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) held that an obese employee was disabled and therefore capable of bringing a disability discrimination claim against his employer.

In light of this decision, some employers might be alarmed to think that they should automatically class obese employees as having a disability; that fear would be largely groundless.

The Equality Act defines a disability under section 6 as a person who has a “physical or mental impairment” which has a “substantial and long term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities.”

Mr Walker who weighed 21.5 stone brought a discrimination claim on grounds of disability. He suffered numerous health complaints including high blood pressure, depression and bowel problems. Although these problems gave rise to a myriad of symptoms (chronic fatigue, abdomen pains and pains in his limbs) which affected his ability to carry out day to day activities, the Tribunal held that he did not have a disability because medical professionals could not find a physical cause for his ailments other than obesity.

The EAT held that the first instance Tribunal had erred in law; finding that the Tribunal should not have focused on whether obesity itself should be considered a disability but whether the effects of that condition might give rise to ailments which could be deemed a disability.

In some ways obesity can be compared to alcoholism, an illness which expressly does not fall under the Equality Act’s definition of disability. While the alcoholic may not be disabled by dint of their addiction, the liver disease they may go on to develop could cause them to suffer ailments that would fall within the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act.

The ailments consequent upon obesity might cause the overweight employee to fall into the category of disabled, but such an employee who has not yet developed disabling symptoms does not suffer a disability by reason of obesity.