Can you be fairly dismissed for not being ‘fun’ enough?
2 December 2022
In France, the answer is no! The Paris Court of Cassation, the French court of last resort, has found that consultancy firm Cubik Partners was wrong to dismiss an employee who they did not consider ‘fun’ enough.
In 2015 the employee, who was referred to anonymously as ‘Mr T’ throughout the judgment, was dismissed after having worked with Cubik Partners for four years. The grounds for his dismissal were listed as ‘professional inadequacy’, specifically, Mr T’s failure to comply with the company’s ‘fun’ culture, which entailed his attendance at “mandatory” social events during evenings and weekends, regarded as necessary to foster a ‘strong team spirit’.
Mr T claimed he had been wrongfully dismissed and that his definition of ‘fun’ was very different to that of the Company. According to Mr T the Company’s ‘fun & pro’ ethos included excessive drinking as well as participation in various humiliating and intrusive practices such as the simulation of sexual acts, the use of disrespectful nicknames, ‘decorating’ the office with deformed photos of staff members and being required to share a bed with colleagues when attending overnight conferences. None of these acts were considered “fun” by Mr T.
Mr T stated that he had the right not to attend these mandatory work events but nevertheless, his employment was terminated by his employers for failing to participate in “fun” activities and “critical behaviour” towards his colleagues.
Mr T brought a claim, asking for the dismissal to be declared “null and void”, that he be reinstated and that his employers be ordered to pay him €461,406 (around £400,000) in compensation. The court agreed that Mr T had been wrongfully dismissed and could rely upon his right to freedom of expression and dignity and respect for private life, in order to not take part in the company’s practices. Cubik Partners was ordered to pay Mr T an interim payment of compensation of €3,000 (around £2,500) with the remainder to be assessed in a future hearing.
While the facts of this case are somewhat extreme and not binding in UK courts, parallels can be drawn with UK employers’ obligations to ensure employees are not subject to discrimination or harassment in the name of team bonding. Penalising those professionally for a reluctance to participate in boozy work events may expose employers to the risk of a claim under the Equality Act. As we approach Christmas party season, it is important for employers to keep in mind that they are under an obligation to ensure employees are not subject to harassment or bullying as employees get into the Christmas spirit. Employers can be vicariously liable for the acts of their employees and third parties, even during work related social events.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at December 2022.