The Equality and Human Rights Commission has just published new technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work. David Sheppard and Elizabeth Smith take this opportunity to comment on a recent decision by a law firm to stop subsidising its staff ski trips, and remind employers what to consider when organising social events.
Magic Circle law firm, Slaughter & May, has reportedly banned subsidising future staff ski trips, after a male lawyer was allegedly accused of sexually harassing a female colleague during a trip last year.
This move by Slaughter & May follows a wider risk review of other off-site social events, in which ski trips were seen as “high risk”. If you are an employer, this is yet another reminder of your potential vicarious liability for your employees’ discriminatory behaviour at social events, even if the link with work is tenuous.
What does the law say?
As an employer, you could face discrimination, harassment and victimisation claims under the Equality Act, if the unlawful act took place within the “course of the employees’ employment” and if you cannot demonstrate you took reasonable steps to prevent such unacceptable behaviour.
You should be mindful that even partial funding or organisation of a staff social event has potentially sufficient connection with work so as to make you liable for any actions of your employees.
A few things that you should consider when organising social events for your employees:
The actions of both Slaughter & May and Linklaters demonstrate the cautious steps high profile employers are now taking when organising social events – the boozy works Christmas party or Summer BBQ may soon become a thing of the past.
The timing of this story is also coincidental, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission has published this week of new technical guidance on sexual harassment and harassment at work, which all employers should take note of.