Christmas office party

The employer was justified in summarily dismissing a middle manager who had displayed sexually offensive behaviour to a colleague in another department at the Christmas office party.

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Behave appropriately – also at the Christmas office party. This is clearly illustrated by this case where a dismissals tribunal had to decide if the employer was justified in summarily dismissing a middle manager who had behaved in a sexually offensive way at the Christmas office party towards a female colleague from another department.

It was a nice Christmas office party with food, drinks and a good atmosphere. But just as the party was about to end, a middle manager suddenly made advances to a female employee. For no reason, he grabbed her breast and stomach while she was sitting at a table. She expressly asked him to stop and moved to the other side of the table where some of her good colleagues were sitting. The middle manager then did the same thing again.

The following week the woman told her trade union what had happened and senior management was informed.

The employer then began investigating the matter by individually carrying through a number of interviews with the middle manager as well as other employees who had witnessed what had happened. Even though the middle manager denied everything, the employer found it established that the events had in fact occurred as described by the female employee and the middle manager was dismissed summarily.

The umpire also found it established that the middle manager had behaved in a sexually offensive way towards the female employee at the Christmas office party. According to the umpire, this constituted gross misconduct and it was an aggravating factor in this assessment that it was a manager who had displayed this kind of behaviour to an employee. It did not matter that the middle manager and the employee worked in separate departments and that the middle manager had had an immaculate employment record for more than 25 years. Accordingly, the summary dismissal was justified and the tribunal found in favour of the employer.

Norrbom Vinding notes

  • that the decision illustrates the employment law principle according to which employees are required to behave decently during as well as outside of working hours; and
  • that an employee’s inappropriate behaviour towards another employee may constitute gross misconduct, thus justifying summary dismissal, even though the employees do not work in the same department.

 
Norrbom Vinding represented the employer during the case.

The content of the above is not, and should not be a substitute for legal advice.

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