The Christmas Party Hangover no-one wants

drinkingFollowing their 2015 Christmas Party, London Zoo faced a huge hangover. Two employees had come to blows that fateful night.  One dismissal, one final warning and a tribunal case followed.  Just in time for the 2016 party season, the Employment Tribunal has delivered their verdict.

What happened at the Christmas Party?

The two employees, Caroline Westlake and Kate Sanders had a fight.  It is thought this was over the lama keeper, Adam Davies, whom both had dated at different times.  Kate Sanders needed stitches, after allegedly being glassed.  You may well think that fighting is a good reason to dismiss.  However, the Employment Tribunal found that Caroline Westlake’s dismissal had been unfair. But why?

Are you “at work” at a Christmas party?

The Christmas party was a company-organised event.  Although it did not take place during normal working hours, it was classed as company time. London Zoo correctly dealt with it as a disciplinary matter.

Could what happened be called gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is when an employee behaves so badly it destroys the employer/employee relationship. It is reasonable to consider fighting as gross misconduct.

A lack of consistency

The big issue for the tribunal in this case was a lack of consistency. While Caroline Westlake was dismissed, Kate Sanders received a final written warning and a ban from future company events. The ACAS Code of Practice states that you must act consistently. Had Kate Sanders also been dismissed, both dismissals would probably have been found fair.


No damages were awarded but both parties would have incurred significant costs.

The moral of the story

Always follow the ACAS Code of Practice whenever you are dealing with a disciplinary. If you fail to do so, even the most understandable dismissal can be found unfair.  For more information, please contact me.

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