For many of us, the work Christmas party is a time to relax and unwind with our colleagues over a drink or two. Unfortunately, when there is free alcohol on the cards, some people get carried away and behave inappropriately. Some employees have even been fired as a result.

This was reality for Mr Keenan, who was fired after intimidating and sexually harassing colleagues at his work Christmas party. During the function, which had been paid for by his employer, Mr Keenan kissed a female colleague on the mouth and said to another: “Who the f**k are you? What do you even do here?”

He continued to offend by telling a company director to “f**k off” after he attempted to join a conversation.

Mr Keenan was fired and subsequently brought an unfair dismissal claim against his employer.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) found that Mr Keenan’s conduct had occurred “out of hours” as it took place after the official function had ended, at the upstairs bar. A higher level of misconduct was required for it to constitute a valid reason for his termination. The Commission ruled that Mr Keenan had been unfairly dismissed.

The Commission noted that Mr Keenan’s conduct in kissing a colleague unexpectedly could constitute sexual harassment, however the incident was not sufficiently connected to his employment, as it had occurred in a private social setting.

The Commission also noted that the employer had provided unlimited alcohol at the event. In its decision it stated that “it is contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time to allow the unlimited service of free alcohol”.

Whether an employee’s conduct at a work function should result in their dismissal is a contentious issue. Employers must consider whether the offensive conduct is sufficiently connected to their employment, or whether it occurred out of working hours.

Image: Daily Mirror

Emma Mead

Emma Mead

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