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Misbehaviour at Office Parties Can Lead to the Sack

PLEASE NOTE: Information in this article is correct at the time of publication, please contact DFA Law for current advice on older articles.

Some misbehaviour at office social events is usually tolerated, but workplace rules continue to apply and those who go over the top can be lawfully dismissed. Exactly that happened in one case where a bank worker punched a colleague in the face during an office day out to Chester Racecourse.

The worker and a colleague had been drinking before and during the event. They had been warned in advance that normal office standards of behaviour would apply. There had been banter between them earlier in the day before things got nasty on the dancefloor, when the colleague kneed the worker in the leg and the latter responded by delivering the punch. Following the event, the colleague sent texts to the worker in which he threatened to rip his head off; however, the texts were not received until the following morning.

A disciplinary process ensued and the worker was dismissed for gross misconduct on the basis that his behaviour had the potential to seriously impair the reputation of the bank. The colleague was given a written warning after it was found that the texts were an immediate response to the worker hitting him and that he would not have followed through on the threats.

An Employment Tribunal (ET) upheld the worker’s unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the punch was an overreaction to provocation and that there was an unfair disparity between the bank’s treatment of him and his colleague. In upholding the bank’s challenge to that ruling, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that dismissal was a reasonable response to his behaviour. In declaring the dismissal fair, the EAT observed that a distinction could properly be drawn between a deliberate punch in the face during the event and threats issued afterwards.

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