Work parties and sexual harassment

25th February 2023

Work socials are a time to recognise the talents of one’s colleagues, celebrate recent successes (or commiserate over recent defeats) but, ultimately, unify as a team. Since we were locked down, these socials have not been confined to Christmas (even though the case I cite is Christmas related) and instead have become a more frequent way of encouraging staff to get together and come back into the office. But, employers need to keep an eye!

Unfortunately, the social element can veer into dangerous territory after a few too many and cause upset between colleagues. This was illustrated in a recent Northern Ireland case: Lyons v Starplan Furniture Ltd & Others.

Ms Lyons attended her employer’s Christmas party and was subjected to unwanted sexual conduct by another member of staff. Soon after, Ms Lyons raised a complaint to her line manager and, as a consequence, was excluded, victimised, and threatened to be “taken down” by her colleagues, including her line manager.

Needless to say, Ms Lyons brought several claims against her employer and colleagues and was awarded £18,857.18 in compensation by the Belfast Industrial Tribunal.

One’s workplace should be a safe environment (and that includes places where a company or team has chosen to socialise) and employers have a duty to care to ensure this on the behalf of their employees. Whilst sexual harassment is not something that any employer would condone, turning a blind eye, or not putting in sufficient protections or warnings in advance, could result in the employer being held vicariously liable for some unpalatable acts.

Furthermore, even if those warnings were put in place, what happens after someone has made a complaint can be just as critical. Victimisation following such an incident still carries with it potential unlimited compensation in the tribunal if  associated with a protected characteristic.

SMB’s employment team is highly experienced in dealing with such sensitive matters on both sides and are more than happy to assist should you require our services.

Please feel free to reach out to for further information.