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How to Handle a ‘Will Smith’ Situation in the Workplace

Will Smith

Most people know what is and is not appropriate behaviour in the office or during work calls; keeping it professional during work hours to make sure everyone is comfortable helps productivity after all.

If an incident occurs outside of the workplace or outside of normal working hours, but it’s at a place or time related to and connected with an individual’s employment, it could be considered to have happened “in the course of employment”. Conduct on social media and at work events are two of the most obvious examples.

For people managers and HR, the Will Smith situation underscores the importance of employees behaving appropriately at work events. Poor conduct could not only damage the employer’s reputation but also leave you with the hangover of a potential disciplinary situation to contend with.

Here are my 5 top tips for avoiding an Oscars-style calamity in your workplace:

  1. Prevention is better than cure. If you don’t have one already, draw up a code of conduct that sets out the standards and behaviours you expect of your employees. This can include respecting others and upholding the company’s values, and you can specify what these values are. You should also make sure your disciplinary policy covers conduct at work events.
  2. Ahead of work events, remind employees of the standards of behaviour you expect and that, while you want them to enjoy themselves, they should keep in mind that this is a work-related activity. You could tag this on to any memo you’re planning to circulate about the arrangements for the event.
  3. Remind employees of your drug and alcohol policy. Make it clear to staff prior to the event that drunk or disorderly behaviour will not be tolerated and may lead to disciplinary action. In some cases, alcohol-fuelled behaviour may be treated as a gross misconduct offence, which may result in dismissal without notice. Also, consider asking management to go easy as they can play an important role in setting a good example for others and keeping their team in check.
  4. Remind employees that any grievances, whether informal or formal, should be raised with the appropriate line manager rather than employees taking matters into their own hands. This should be set out in your grievance policy and procedure.
  5. Again, always consider formal action in line with your internal procedures, even if an employee says they don’t wish to ‘make a complaint’. Sometimes employees are fearful of proceeding with issues formally but it’s still important for employers, especially when conduct is serious, to progress through a full and fair process to ensure consistency of treatment.”

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