Tis the season to worry about the consequences of the office party
Published 19 December 2018
Things can, and often do, go wrong at the office Christmas party, which can have serious repercussions in the workplace
Data analyst Kirk was delighted and relieved when he was eventually cleared of the serious disciplinary allegation that followed his alleged behaviour at the festive get together.
When Kirk returned after the Christmas break he was immediately suspended from work. He was informed it was serious, and as a result of his conduct at the office party.
A female colleague had made a complaint, which the company was treating as sexual harassment. Kirk categorically denied any inappropriate behaviour.
His manager said there were a number of witnesses, unanswered phone calls that Kirk made that night and a text message that supported the allegations.
Kirk was shocked and denied making any phone calls, but admitted sending a text and apologising for acting like an idiot.
The company carried out a disciplinary investigation and invited Kirk to an investigation meeting. Kirk admitted having had a bit too much to drink, but denied any wrongdoing or making phone calls.
He admitted sending the text message. He said it was to apologise for being annoying by repeatedly asking the colleague to join his group, and she said no
A disciplinary hearing was later arranged to hear allegations that Kirk had harassed his colleague.
Despite protesting his innocence Kirk believed the outcome was inevitable. Prior to contacting the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help he made a proposal to his employer.
Kirk, who had four years’ service at the time, said he was prepared to resign as part of a settlement agreement. The company flatly rejected the proposal.
In preparation for a disciplinary hearing our representatives will always carefully study and assess the evidence, listen to the employee’s views and their account of events.
The complainant said Kirk made six phone calls to her after the party from a withheld number. She presented a screenshot of the calls all made within the space of a few minutes.
Witness statements described Kirk as being drunk, loud and silly but none described any inappropriate behaviour.
The complainant’s statement said she repeatedly told Kirk to go away but he persisted in trying to get her to join his group, was irritating and made her feel uncomfortable. She said Kirk also asked about her husband, the pair used to work together, and she felt this was inappropriate. She said when she turned her back on Kirk; he leaned in close from behind and shouted in her ear that he was going.
Those incidents were the worse of Kirk’s behaviour described in her statement.
Our representative told the hearing that Kirk’s behaviour, while silly and annoying, could not reasonably be considered sexual harassment. There was no evidence to substantiate any claim he said or did anything of a sexual nature or that was inappropriate.
There was no evidence that he was responsible for making the phone calls, which were from a withheld number. And, when he shouted in his colleague’s ear it was simply because the music was loud.
The hearing was told that when he sent the text message it was simply to apologise for being annoying. It was also said that the company had wrongly interpreted Kirk’s actions, as his colleague did not complain of sexual harassment.
Our representative referred to end of the colleague’s witness statement in which she said she just wanted Kirk to apologise, and that she did not want to get him in any trouble.
He pointed out that the complaint was unsubstantiated and essentially a grievance, and that the ACAS Code of Practice encourages an informal approach to resolve a grievance if possible. Therefore, allowing Kirk to apologise as requested should suffice as it was what his colleague wanted and would be appropriate.
The hearing chair took this approach. Kirk was cleared of any wrongdoing, but warned him about his future conduct at social events.
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