Despite this being the season of goodwill to all men, Christmas can often result in arguments and even fights at the office party. The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently reported a case (Westlake v ZSL London Zoo) which involved two female zookeepers who engaged in a physical fight over a male zookeeper at a Christmas party. It was not possible to tell who the aggressor was, but only one woman was dismissed. The dismissed woman claimed that she had been unfairly treated in comparison to the person she was fighting with. The tribunal agreed and upheld her complaint of unfair dismissal but declined to offer her any compensation.
However in MBNA v Jones, another recent case involving a fight at an office party, the tribunal found that the disparate treatment was justified. In that case the Claimant, Mr Jones, had been kneed in the leg by his colleague, Mr Battersby (presumably because Mr Jones had his arm around Mr Battersby’s sister). Mr Jones punched Mr Battersby in the face in retaliation. Later that night Mr Battersby sent threatening text messages to him and waited outside a nightclub for Mr Jones to appear. However, nothing further happened and Mr Jones did not receive the texts until the next day. MBNA commenced disciplinary proceedings against both parties. Mr Jones was dismissed whereas Mr Battersby received a final written warning. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the punch in the face was sufficient to justify the different treatment so that the Claimant’s dismissal was fair.
Our advice is to re-iterate to your staff that the usual standards of behaviour apply at work events and, if an incident does occur, conduct a proper disciplinary procedure to reduce the likelihood of a case reaching the tribunal.