Happy drunk businessman

Soap Box: When Employees Behave Badly & Get Away With It…

Putting hands up skirts, screaming colourful expletives, refusing to cooperate with directions, and asking for private phone numbers. When can employees behave badly and get away with it?

I recently read a great article of the same title by my legal mentor Warwick Ryan of Swaab Attorneys on When Can Employees Behave Badly And Get Away With It

The article covered cases that arrived in court due to behaviour of employees at company events.

It reminds me of the sniping comments I would receive, as a thinly veiled ‘joke’, that HR are the party poopers when the behaviour guidelines are emailed out prior to the annual company Christmas party, or New Year Kick Off events.

I never recall passing disparaging comments when my colleagues were perhaps ‘just doing their job’, and protecting the security of the organisation’s data, intellectual property, or customer profiles.

Thankless that I protected many of their jobs during downsizing initiatives, and ensured that they received fair and equitable pay, enjoyed innovative and leading benefits, and training to further their careers. 

HR’s Thankless Tasks…

Yet when HR are ‘just doing their job’ of protecting the organisation from potential litigation, fines, expensive legal fees, and damaging PR, we are suddenly showing ‘poor social form’ by slowing down the beer guzzling.

I was stunned to discover recently on a company’s alumni FaceBook page, such similar comments on whether ‘HR would approve’ of a premeditated, boozy long lunch reunion.

When the sh!t hits the fan and the company is facing a sexual harassment case, an expensive injury claim, or worse, a death or serious disability due to employees uncontrolled behaviour – the determination in court can swing on whether HR were carrying out their responsibilities to the required satisfaction of the judge. This includes notifiying and training staff and management on the responsible use of company provided alcohol. In addition, the company’s dirty laundry can be widely publicised in the legal and HR press meaning instant career suicide for the HR head responsible for the organisations HR practice.

Why should HR risk all that just because staff want to get blotto and managers fear ‘not being liked by the staff’ if they don’t provide enough alcohol to get wrecked? Often line management hide behind HR’s skirt when it is left to HR to be the ‘messengers’ of good practice with the standard email outlining party goers responsibilities.

It’s a cultural thing. Broader than the work place, and woven into the fabric of Australian society. However within a work context the courts will look to whether an employer was irresponsible in having open bars, or ‘all you can drink’ access to alcohol when determining outcomes of these cases.

Making Bad Behaviour Easy…

Employees can get away with bad behaviour if employers have built a construct around the ability to behave badly. If an employer provides unlimited alcohol, and no policy or recent instruction around expectations of behaviour for that particular event, employers limit their capacity to argue claims against them.

It’s a similar context with swearing in the workforce. Countless cases have come before the court of unfair dismissals when employee and manager have come to blows and a trail of expletives towards the manager leaves the employee jobless. Unfair? Courts have deemed the dismissal unfair in an number of cases when it was found that swearing was a consistently accepted form of casual communication through out the culture of the organisation whether it be via heated exchange or jovial exclamation!

This is how employees get away with bad behaviour. 

On the whole the majority of employees behave with maturity and responsibility at company events and the workplace in general. Yet it only takes one case for an employer to get burned.

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