Party Punch-ups

How would you deal with an employee who gets into a fight either at or after the Christmas party?

In one recent case an employee was walking home with a group of colleagues after their work Christmas party when he had a disagreement with one of his colleagues and then punched another colleague in the face. The employer subsequently instigated its disciplinary procedure and summarily dismissed the employee for gross misconduct.

The employee claimed unfair dismissal, arguing that the incident was not misconduct because it happened outside the course of employment and therefore outside the employment relationship.

The Employment Tribunal disagreed. It was as a result of the work Christmas party that the employee and his colleagues were walking home together and the assault could have impacted on the working environment.

In another case an employee who organised the company’s Christmas party got into a tussle with a colleague outside the party after having warned the colleague not to drink too much. During the employer’s investigation both men played down the incident but the employer decided to dismiss the employee.

The employee failed in his claim for unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal held that the employer was entitled to treat fighting between colleagues as “a matter of the utmost seriousness”, even if it appears that there were “no lasting hard feelings” between them. Dismissal was therefore a sanction open to the employer in this case.

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