When Festive Faux Pas go viral

Food and Drink, Insurance and Reinsurance — By on December 14, 2013 at 7:54 PM

wisky lloyds 2013Fri 13 Dec 2013 – Christmas office parties should be fun, but the rise of social media means they can have serious legal and reputational implications for organisations when they go wrong. (source: Lloyd’s of London)

Christmas is traditionally a time to let your hair down, have a few drinks, and catch up with work colleagues and clients. But office parties can get out of control – whether it’s calling time on a client’s embarrassing overindulgence, the colleague that tells your boss what they really think, or a punch-up between workers.

In the past, such issues could be contained – dealt with at an appropriate time, discreetly and in a controlled way. But the addition of social media can seriously impair a company’s ability to manage a crisis, explains Eric Alter, Risk Consultant at Marsh Ltd.

“Social media and business entertainment can be a challenging mix – whether it is a sales conference, awards dinner or a Christmas party – the use of social media in the work environment has to be carefully considered,” he says.

Websites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram enable people to share comments and pictures using mobile devices almost instantly. Even email can cause problems – an employee may have intended to send a colleague a witty text, but accidently send it to clients.

“What was once a case of gossip in the workplace can quickly spread throughout an organisation and beyond through social media, perhaps resulting in substantial reputational damage,” says Alter.

Staff attending a Christmas party should be aware that they are still in a business environment and that usual company rules apply, even if it is in a social context, advises Alter. “A company policy should make it clear that any event that is associated with work should be treated as work, and that the social media policy continues to apply”.

Vicarious liability

Christmas parties can potentially bring heightened legal and reputational risks for companies, according to Paul Griffin, Head of Employment and Labour at international law firm, Norton Fulbright. An employer is liable for the wrong doings of their employees, unless they can show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent them, he explains.

“I have seen some extremely serious situations arising from office parties – including acts of violence and sexual assault by one employee against another. Such cases can end up in court and in the media, leaving employers with a damaged reputation and difficult decisions on what to do with the perpetrator and the victim,” says Griffin.

An employer could also be liable if one of its employees makes defamatory remarks via social media, or makes comments that amount to bullying or harassment, according to Griffin.

“Employees will not always get along at the Christmas party. Disagreements can lead to hurt feelings through to a potential assault,” says Steve Adcock, Underwriting Manager at QBE Europe.

Similarly, alcohol can lead to a heightened risk of assault or inappropriate behaviour or comments. “People can lose their inhibitions and may not think about what they say or do,” says Adcock.

Not a good mixer?

A common risk with Christmas parties is that of personal injury, explains Adcock.

The risk of slips and trips are enhanced by the environment – a free bar and a dark noisy night club can increase the risk of injury, he says. And companies are potentially liable if their employees should come to harm, he adds.

“Organisations are responsible for providing their employees with a safe place of work, and that extends to the office party,” says Adcock. Parties can range from drinks in the office to a marquee complete with fairground rides. But even if an organisation outsources the party to others, they still have a duty of care to their employees, he says.

Employers and public liability insurance could cover damages associated with a slip or trip, or an assault, while employers’ practices liability insurance could cover wrongful dismissal claims. But the main risk for most organisations is the potential for a damaged reputation, says Adcock.

“Insurers can help minimise the risk but companies should carry out a risk assessment and have facilities in place in case something goes wrong. And there is no harm in reminding employees of company and social media policies,” he says.WHEN FESTIVE FAUX PAS GO VIRAL
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Fri 13 Dec 2013

Christmas office parties should be fun, but the rise of social media means they can have serious legal and reputational implications for organisations when they go wrong.

Christmas is traditionally a time to let your hair down, have a few drinks, and catch up with work colleagues and clients. But office parties can get out of control – whether it’s calling time on a client’s embarrassing overindulgence, the colleague that tells your boss what they really think, or a punch-up between workers.

In the past, such issues could be contained – dealt with at an appropriate time, discreetly and in a controlled way. But the addition of social media can seriously impair a company’s ability to manage a crisis, explains Eric Alter, Risk Consultant at Marsh Ltd.

“Social media and business entertainment can be a challenging mix – whether it is a sales conference, awards dinner or a Christmas party – the use of social media in the work environment has to be carefully considered,” he says.

Websites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram enable people to share comments and pictures using mobile devices almost instantly. Even email can cause problems – an employee may have intended to send a colleague a witty text, but accidently send it to clients.

“What was once a case of gossip in the workplace can quickly spread throughout an organisation and beyond through social media, perhaps resulting in substantial reputational damage,” says Alter.

Staff attending a Christmas party should be aware that they are still in a business environment and that usual company rules apply, even if it is in a social context, advises Alter. “A company policy should make it clear that any event that is associated with work should be treated as work, and that the social media policy continues to apply”.

Vicarious liability

Christmas parties can potentially bring heightened legal and reputational risks for companies, according to Paul Griffin, Head of Employment and Labour at international law firm, Norton Fulbright. An employer is liable for the wrong doings of their employees, unless they can show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent them, he explains.

“I have seen some extremely serious situations arising from office parties – including acts of violence and sexual assault by one employee against another. Such cases can end up in court and in the media, leaving employers with a damaged reputation and difficult decisions on what to do with the perpetrator and the victim,” says Griffin.

An employer could also be liable if one of its employees makes defamatory remarks via social media, or makes comments that amount to bullying or harassment, according to Griffin.

“Employees will not always get along at the Christmas party. Disagreements can lead to hurt feelings through to a potential assault,” says Steve Adcock, Underwriting Manager at QBE Europe.

Similarly, alcohol can lead to a heightened risk of assault or inappropriate behaviour or comments. “People can lose their inhibitions and may not think about what they say or do,” says Adcock.

Not a good mixer?

A common risk with Christmas parties is that of personal injury, explains Adcock.

The risk of slips and trips are enhanced by the environment – a free bar and a dark noisy night club can increase the risk of injury, he says. And companies are potentially liable if their employees should come to harm, he adds.

“Organisations are responsible for providing their employees with a safe place of work, and that extends to the office party,” says Adcock. Parties can range from drinks in the office to a marquee complete with fairground rides. But even if an organisation outsources the party to others, they still have a duty of care to their employees, he says.

Employers and public liability insurance could cover damages associated with a slip or trip, or an assault, while employers’ practices liability insurance could cover wrongful dismissal claims. But the main risk for most organisations is the potential for a damaged reputation, says Adcock.

“Insurers can help minimise the risk but companies should carry out a risk assessment and have facilities in place in case something goes wrong. And there is no harm in reminding employees of company and social media policies,” he says.

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