Summer Retreats – the new Christmas Party style headache for employers?30th September 2022 • 3 min read • Lauren Beaumont
The post-pandemic era is upon us and it’s hardly surprising that many companies are seeking to boost morale and unite teams by inviting employees to attend work-related social events, including summer retreats. However, as the summer holidays already feel like distant memories, are employers now begrudgingly managing the consequences of things that happened during their retreat?
Employers in hot water?
Despite their good intentions, employers could be vulnerable to legal implications, potentially even for the behaviour of an employee outside the office during the summer retreat. This is because of the principle of vicarious liability which can make employers liable for the actions of their employees if those actions are deemed to have been committed in the course of employment.
What does ‘in the course of employment’ mean? There’s no easy answer to this however, the risk of an employer being held responsible for their employees’ conduct is increased in circumstances where the employer has themselves organised (or has arranged for a third party to organise) the summer retreat, even if it takes place outside of the workplace.
Not just a bit of banter
Events such as summer retreats, particularly those that permit alcohol consumption, can result in employees becoming more relaxed around each other. Whilst there are obviously positives associated with this, the negatives are that this can sometimes lead to the making of inappropriate and potentially offensive remarks. You’ll have heard the term ‘banter’ before – a term not well liked by employment lawyers! Even if the remark was made innocently, if it had the effect of creating an offensive or intimidating environment, and it is reasonable for it to have had that effect (e.g. the victim was not being overly sensitive), claims for discrimination and harassment can be made. Not to mention internal grievances, workplace hostility and the time and costs associated with recruiting for a replacement for an employee you are sad to lose.
An employer will only avoid liability where they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination. You may hear this being referred to as the ‘statutory defence’. Such reasonable steps will generally include:
- Policies – providing a clear policy to all employees setting out the standard of behaviour expected during the summer retreat, including online, over social media, whilst they may be sat alone in their bedrooms. This should include examples of behaviours which fall short of this threshold and would be deemed unacceptable or unsatisfactory, e.g. the making of any potentially offensive remark to or about a colleague that may relate to their age, sex, disability, race etc. This doesn’t need to be a brand-new policy; it can could form part of an employer’s existing equal opportunities policy.
- Training – providing training on such policies and refresher training perhaps immediately prior to any such summer retreat.
- Acting – enforcing a robust disciplinary and grievance policy by ensuring that issues are dealt with proactively and effectively. If the employer finds that an employee has discriminated against or harassed an employee during a summer retreat, it is likely to consider dismissal to be the appropriate sanction (once a full and proper procedure has been followed).
If you are:
- an employer seeking advice in relation to managing an existing complaint in respect to your summer retreat or any work social event; or
- an employee seeking advice in relation to any inappropriate behaviour(s) which took place during a work social event
please get in touch with us here at People Legal.
We are trained and experienced in handling all matters of employment law and can provide you with the information you need. We can also provide training on equal opportunities.
Call us on 0800 368 8470 or arrange a chat at www.people.legal/contact for free initial advice.
Please note the information contained in this briefing is intended as a general review of the subject featured and is not a substitute for obtaining specific legal advice.