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Work party rape court case win outlines employer’s responsibilities

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director - Peninsula

A woman has won a sex harassment case against her employers after alleging that her manager raped her after a work party.

This recent case outlines the severity of the repercussions on employers when an employee commits a crime – even when the illegal behaviour is perceived to have taken place outside of the workplace.

Peninsula’s HR Advice & Consultancy Director Kate Palmer, comments on the case and the learnings for employers:

“An employer’s duty to protect their staff from harm, and take action where necessary to fulfil this duty, doesn’t stop the moment an employee finishes their working day and leaves the building. A classic example of this is the Christmas party. Often a boozy affair, it’s an opportunity for colleagues to get together and have fun, and a chance for the employer to say thank you through their hospitality.

“So, why should employers be responsible for what happens there? Because the employer is at the centre of this; but for them, that group of people would not be together at the same place and at the same time. The employer is the common link. And that common link is where liability for the actions of the party attendees comes in. Sadly, for the woman in this case, her employer failed in that duty, missing a number of opportunities to protect her and her colleagues from harm.

“Protecting employees from harm isn’t just about policing a party, however. It starts long before that. Setting behavioural expectations via company policies, reminding employees of the need to act appropriately and with respect to their colleagues, and to drink responsibly, are all important parts of discharging this duty towards employees. That, and having a process in place so that if something untoward does happen, everyone knows what they should do to deal with it, including when (as soon as possible) and who (somebody senior) they should report to.

“Could the answer lie in removing alcohol from events? Maybe. Recently the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) recommended that employers reduce the amount of alcohol available at work events, and so this could be a positive move for businesses in a bid to reduce the risk of inappropriate behaviours occurring. A truly inclusive event certainly shouldn’t be centred around alcohol anyway, as many cannot or choose not to drink and wouldn’t feel welcome at such an event. Finding alternative ways to celebrate with employees, such as activity days or providing food and a chance to socialise with colleagues, can also be enjoyable and come with a much-reduced risk than an afternoon with a free bar and drinking games.”

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