A judgment handed down by the Spanish Supreme Court has made it clear that a worker, when away from their place of work and outside working hours, is not totally free to act in a manner detrimental to the employer or their colleagues.

The restrictions imposed during the pandemic have at last been lifted, and we are now free to attend Christmas parties, including the ever-popular company Christmas dinners. Such festivities can, however, be marred by conduct or situations which merit disciplinary dismissal under employment law.

The first question to be considered regarding such situations is whether forms of conduct which, in a work environment, would constitute misconduct by the employee, are equally punishable by the employer when they occur away from the Company’s facilities and outside working hours.

Attention is drawn in this respect to the Supreme Court’s judgment number 494/2022 of May 31, 2022, Rec. 1819/2020, which analyses whether events taking place during a company’s Christmas dinner can be classed as very serious misconduct meriting dismissal.

In the case in question, an employee, at the end of the Christmas dinner, directed insults — some of which were racist — at two colleagues and physically assaulted one of them.

The Supreme Court, in light of the facts described, declared that the dismissal of the employee was justified, basing this conclusion on the following grounds:

  1. The duty of good faith which the employee is required to honor at their place of work and during working hours throughout the employment relationship may be interpreted more flexibly when away from the workplace and outside working hours, but it does not cease to apply.
  2. The worker, when away from the workplace and outside working hours, is not entirely free to behave in a manner detrimental to the employer, committing acts which, had they taken place during working hours, would have been punishable.
  3. The acts attributed to the employee, which constituted serious misconduct involving verbal and physical abuse, impacted other company employees, affecting relations between them and the reputation of the employer itself, which was harmed as a result.

It should therefore be noted that events taking place outside working hours, if they have labor-related repercussions, can be punishable, since the objective is not only to maintain a respectful work environment but also to protect people’s dignity.

It is therefore clear that inappropriate behavior during Christmas dinners can constitute misconduct by an employee and can, similarly, be punishable in accordance with the disciplinary regime applicable in the company.

Abel Gallego

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department