Beware of untoward activities at Christmas parties
The following case is not based on a Christmas Party but a Leaving Party but it is well to note the principal behind the decision.
A senior executive in a Bank, Mr Eleftheriou was dismissed for breaching conduct rules and a breach of trust and confidence for his mismanagement of his staff who engaged in sexual activity at a Leaving Party, outside of work hours.
Eleftheriou claimed he was made a ‘scapegoat’ after he was dismissed but the employees involved in the sexual activity were not. The Tribunal ruled this was a factor in its finding of unfair dismissal.
The names of those involved in this case were anonymised to N, Z, S and C because of the content of the claim. Eleftheriou managed six employees, including S, Z, and N.
At a Leaving Party in a Bar in London City for one of Eleftheriou’s team, which he did not attend, Z, a male, and N, a female, were found together in the ladies’ lavatory before being ejected by security – an incident Eleftheriou was informed of by Z.
Eleftheriou and his line manager then received an anonymous letter alleging breaches of the banking code of conduct, including the incident. The letter stated that Eleftheriou told employees the incident had been dealt with and that he had signed off £150 in champagne expensed by Z, proving that he knew of the incident. It also alleged that Eleftheriou and N had previously engaged in sexual activity in the office, all of which the claimant denied.
During an investigation into these anonymous allegations members of staff noted that a clique existed and there were rumours of Z and N’s misconduct.
Investigatory meetings occurred with Eleftheriou, S, Z and N. Eleftheriou said he was aware of sexual behaviour within the team, and said Z had spoken privately to him to confirm he had followed N into the bathroom to talk before being thrown out. Eleftheriou said he “lectured” N about good leadership and maintaining the bank’s brand and told him to “think about” what had happened.
At the meeting, Eleftheriou was accused of favouring certain employees, which he denied, and said he would “deal with any clique”. He added that the head of private banking knew of the alleged incident and had said it was “ok” as a “one-off, childish” occurrence.
The bank dismissed Eleftheriou for gross misconduct for breaching the Bank’s code of conduct, and a breakdown in trust and confidence. C and N were also dismissed, the latter for sending explicit messages to another colleague. But Z only received a final written warning, and S was warned and demoted.
The tribunal also heard that Eleftheriou had texted N, referring to her as his ‘work wife’, and signed off the message with an ‘x’. He later claimed he sent it in error.
The Judge in this case ruled that Eleftheriou was unfairly dismissed. He found the dismissal was outside the range of reasonable responses. He explained that Eleftheriou was not present at the bar and was not implicated in what occurred. His management of the situation was a matter of judgement and others involved had received lesser sanctions from the bank.
However, he later found that although the Bank based the dismissal of the Claim
ant on its own perception of his conduct, Eleftheriou had contributed significantly to his dismissal and reduced any award by a third.
His contribution was considered to be the fact that he had allowed a working environment to arise in which there was at least the perception of a favoured clique and had failed to undertake a more formal or rigorous investigation of an incident that involved two members of the perceived clique.
The fact that the two employees who “engaged in the incident in the bathroom were given a lesser sanction than Eleftheriou was crucial” in this case. Eleftheriou was not even present when the event happened.
The point to note here is that you have to treat all employees fairly and reasonably no matter their seniority and make sure sanctions correlate with the severity of the actions and are applied consistently.
The general rule for parties and other social functions that are only open for employees to attend is that ALL normal Company rules, policies and procedures regarding conduct and behaviour fully apply to all employees.