It’s getting to that time of year when employers across the country will start to think about their Christmas party.

So having double checked the venue booking and made sure there are suitable choices of food and drink for all, there is just the important task of reminding employees that they will of course be expected to behave. That will make sure that nothing can go wrong? Or maybe not as one recent case report suggests[1].


The employer decided to mark its 20th anniversary by holding an evening party at Chester Racecourse. All employees were duly informed that this was a work event and that normal guidelines with regard to conduct would apply. Despite this warning, some staff started drinking several hours before the event started. It had led to some ‘fun’ incidents and lots of ‘banter’ like when Mr Jones licked Mr Battersby’s face and when in return Mr Battersby had kneed him in the back of the leg.

However, things later turned ugly when Mr Jones felt that he had been kneed a second time by Mr Battersby as this time he responded by thumping him in the face. This left Mr Battersby fuming and after the event had finished he sent several threatening messages to Mr Jones right through until the early hours of the morning.

Back at work…

Both Mr Jones and Mr Battersby were called to disciplinary hearings. It was decided that Mr Jones should be summarily dismissed for punching Mr Battersby, and that Mr Battersby should be given a final written warning for sending what had been messages of an extremely violent nature.

Mr Jones brought a claim for unfair dismissal which was initially successful on the grounds that the employer had been inconsistent in the way it had treated the two employees. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal reversed that decision.

In holding that the dismissal was fair it emphasised it was only where in a truly parallel case two employees were treated differently could it give support to the argument that it was not reasonable to dismiss an employee following such a serious incident. In this case there were clear differences between the circumstances of the two employees as Mr Jones had actually thumped a colleague in the face. Just because the employer had been unduly lenient to another employee was irrelevant to whether their decision to dismiss him had been reasonable.

Whilst this decision highlights that for a dismissal to be found unfair solely on the grounds of inconsistency the circumstances of each employee need to be virtually identical, it is still good practice to consider the reasons why there is any difference in treatment as a matter of good practice and also to guard against other potential claims of discrimination.

This post was edited by Chris Davies. For more information, email

[1] MBNA Limited v Jones

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.