In a recent case in the Fair Work Commission, an employee who behaved drunkenly and inappropriately at a work Christmas party won an unfair dismissal case against his employer. The message for employers is that your duties are not necessarily limited to the office; so be careful this season in supplying unlimited alcohol to your staff, or face the consequences.
Mr. Keenan was an employee at Leighton Boral when he attended a Christmas party for the firm in December of 2014. At the party, Keenan’s employer supplied unlimited alcohol for employees without supervision. As a result of becoming highly intoxicated at the function, Keenan acted inappropriately, swearing at his boss and repeatedly harassing a female colleague for her phone number. Keenan and several other colleagues then proceeded upstairs to a public bar, where he allegedly sexually harassed a female colleague and bullied other colleagues.
As a result of Keenan’s behaviour, he was dismissed following the function. Keenan then proceeded to make an application for unfair dismissal to the Fair Work Commission.
Keenan’s worst behaviour occurred after the Christmas party in the upstairs public bar. However as this was not in an employment setting, for Keenan’s behavior in the public bar to constitute grounds for dismissal it needed to be proved that it impacted the capacity of fellow employees at work. In this case it did not, as his colleagues were unconcerned by his behaviour.
The work party, on the other hand, was sufficiently “in the course of employment”, as Keenan attended due to an invitation by his employer. However the Vice-President of the Commission found that Keenan’s behaviour did not constitute grounds for a dismissal. This was due to several reasons, the most notable being that Keenan’s employer allowed unlimited alcohol consumption. The Vice-President found that it was “entirely predictable that some individuals will consume an excessive amount and behave inappropriately”. It was contradictory for Leighton Boral to supply endless alcohol and then dismiss Keenan as a result of his behaviour.
With the approaching office silly season, employers should be aware that a broader duty is owed to employees that does not end when they leave the office at 5pm. Where there is alcohol supplied at work functions, employers should provide supervision to limit intoxication, and ensure that employees get home safely.
At Everingham Solomons we have the experience and expertise to assist and advise on you or your company’s work place legal needs, because Helping You is Our Business.
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