December is the one month of the year when it's acceptable to head out pretty much every night of the week.

A lot goes on in the run up to Christmas - from meeting friends at the markets to the obligatory work Christmas party.

While work dos are an opportunity to let your hair down with colleagues after a year of hard work, you still need to be cautious about the way you act. 

For some companies, it's the only chance all employees can get together, so it's not uncommon for things to get a little out of hand.

But what does it mean for you and your employer if things go from being banter to just bad behaviour?

Sean Joyce, head of regulatory and criminal justice at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, has urged workers to not get into alcohol-fuelled strife as Mad Friday looms - which is one of the most notorious drinking days of the year.

He has said that legally, Christmas parties are an extension of the work environment, which means employers could be held accountable for bad behaviour.

He said: "A night of drinking can cause alcohol-fuelled problems and some workers can become easily riled and aggressive, which can lead to arguments with colleagues or strangers. Judgements become clouded and this can result in fighting, anti-social behaviour, unwelcome advances and attacks.

"Legally Christmas parties are an extension of the working environment, which means employers can be held liable for the criminal behaviour of employees. Staff on Mad Friday need to bear in mind that they are representing their company, even if they are partying off-site, out of hours.

"Ahead of the festivities we advise employers to make sure staff are aware of the company policy surrounding the Christmas party - outlining expected standards of behaviour, providing specific examples of what is deemed unacceptable and highlighting actions that could result in disciplinary action."

A taxi marshal helps a man after he was punched at Deansgate Locks on Mad Friday

How you could get sacked

While the employer can hold some responsibility, the employee could potentially be dismissed for reckless behaviour.

Philip Richardson, partner & head of employment law at Stephensons Solicitors, said: "Even though most Christmas dos are often held off-site, staff are still representing their company and can be disciplined for misbehaving."

He added: "If an employee commits an act of ‘gross misconduct’ and it’s sufficiently serious, they can potentially be dismissed by an employer.

"This could involve committing physical violence, sexual harassment, bullying, theft, unlawful discrimination, causing loss or damage through negligence, serious health and safety violations or serious incapacity at work due to alcohol or drugs."

The employer liability explained

Sean Joyce said: "An employer would not be criminally liable for criminal acts committed by its employees, however, if we look at it from an employment law perspective then there are some circumstances where an employer could be held accountable.

"For instance, if an employee was subject to sexual harassment at a Christmas works do or even an after party event, and it cannot show it took reasonable steps to prevent such acts, an employer could be held to be liable."

So in short, do take advantage of the free bar and be the social butterfly you are destined to be, however whilst on your employers watch, try not to mess it up.

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