Are you responsible for your employees’ actions outside of work?

Employers can be legally liable for the acts of their employees – this is known as ‘vicarious liability’. For this to happen the employee’s conduct usually has to be part of their course of employment, but what happens if the conduct relates to a work social event?  Can and how should you discipline them?

Background

Mandeep owned and ran a nursery, to improve morale and team building, she organised social events outside of working hours for her team. One of these events was held at a local restaurant on a Friday night, which was a meal with wine on the table which she paid for.  Two members of her team, Sam and Lucy seemed to get very drunk.  By the end of the evening, they were having a very heated discussion, their voices became raised and they were both swearing at each other, this culminated in one of them dropping some glasses of wine on the floor.

Mandeep had already left the restaurant and therefore did not see the altercation, however the restaurant called her the next day to inform her of the incident and told her that she had to pay for the damage. Mandeep was appalled by Sam and Lucy’s behaviour and wanted to discipline them.  However, as it was not in working hours and not on her premises and neither staff member were engaged in any duties connected with the role, Mandeep was unsure whether she would be able to do this.  Therefore Mandeep called the Croner Employment Team to find out.

Is a social event in the course of employment?

Mandeep was advised that employee’s acting in ‘the course of employment’ is wider than only their conduct during working hours and place of work. Social events organised by the employer, have been deemed as still being within the course of employment and in this instance, it was likely to be the case as:

  • The event was organised by Mandeep, as their employer and was for the benefit of employees;
  • The food and most of the drink was paid for by Mandeep.

As such, Mandeep would have been likely to be vicariously liable for the conduct of Sam and Lucy and liable for any damage caused by them at the restaurant.

Furthermore, in relation to Mandeep being able to discipline Sam and Lucy, she was advised to look at her company disciplinary procedure first, as it is likely that both employee’s conduct would fall within the procedure to warrant disciplinary action. Mandeep should then follow the procedure in relation to conducting a reasonable investigation, which can include interviewing other employees that were present and taking notes of what the restaurant owner had informed her and meeting with Sam and Lucy to get their version of events.  If after the investigation, Mandeep still considers that disciplinary action is warranted, then she should provide the evidence she has gathered to Sam and Lucy in good time prior to any disciplinary hearing.

Company policy

Mandeep was also advised that it would be good practice to have a company policy regarding the level of conduct that is expected at work-related social events and other events which are not at the employees’ workplace and what the potential sanction is if the employee’s conduct falls below this acceptable level. Mandeep was further advised that this policy should be clearly communicated to all members of staff and copies made available to them.  Further, it would also be good practice in the organisation of any further work social events that the employees’ are reminded about this policy prior to the event.

The Croner-i Early Years Toolkit for dot2dot provides further information and guidance on an employer’s rights to refuse a holiday request in addition to a model policy which is available to download. All dot2dot customers can access this by visiting https://d2d.loginservice.co.uk/and entering your registered email and password.

Don’t forget dot 2 dot members also have access to Croner’s team of employment law experts through their Helpline to assist you with this subject or any other HR issue. Simply call them for free on 0844 561 8111.

If you are not currently a dot2dot customer and are interested in a free trial of the Croner-I Early Years Toolkit then please do not hesitate to contact the dot2dot team on 01204 570 390.

Stanmore Ins Staff

Jackie Hyde
Director