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Reconsideration of after-hours work activities is prompted by the PwC lawsuit

A PwC UK employee is suing the company for more than 200,000 pounds (U.S. $234,000) after he hurt himself during a gathering for drinks after work in 2019.

Michael Brockie, 28, who lost half his skull playing a game of "pub golf" where they were urged to drink at each of the nine pubs they went to, has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the auditor. According to several accounts, including the Financial Times, those who drank the most quickly received the most points.

According to the allegation, Brockie has no recall of what happened after 10 p.m. He was discovered with a severe brain damage, laying prostrate in the street. He says he still experiences "persistent cognitive symptoms" even after being placed into an induced coma.

According to the allegation, Brockie and others were subjected to "heavy pressure" to attend the gathering. According to The Guardian's story on the purported invitation from a PwC manager:

"“I expect absolute attendance from all of those who attended last year’s invitational. Nothing short of a certified and countersigned letter by an accredited medical practitioner will suffice as excuse."

Since then, PwC has stopped hosting the yearly event.

PwC stated in an email that it was unable to comment on the particulars of a current legal action. " As a responsible employer, we are committed to providing a safe, healthy, and inclusive culture for all of our people. We also expect anyone attending social events to be responsible and to ensure their own safety and that of others," the statement continued.

The audit firm is hardly the only employer whose attempts to foster "team-bonding" have failed. After Bloomberg exposed a culture of misogyny, improper conduct, alcohol abuse, and bullying within the company in 2019, insurance giant Lloyd's of London was forced to issue a warning to staff to reduce excessive drinking in the lead-up to Christmas.

Since teetotalers may feel excluded, many businesses have scaled back or abandoned after-hours social activities due to the possibility of intoxicated, obnoxious conduct. Since the Lloyd's revelations, some financial services companies and law firms have promoted the use of "sober chaperones," who are in charge of handling emergencies and making sure employees arrive home safely from work-related social gatherings, particularly those that take place late at night and involve alcohol.

According to Howard Hymanson, a partner in the employment team at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, "the scope for ambiguity and the opportunity for problems to arise remain where employees attend ad-hoc, quasi-work-related events … where something goes wrong usually related to excess alcohol intake."

For two main reasons, employees in the UK frequently attended after-hours activities. The beverages were free since managers frequently had a budget set out for "social expenses." But secondly, staff members believed they had little choice but to agree out of fear of being forgotten, ridiculed, or subjected to discrimination. In addition, the possibility of losing out on a salary increase or a promotion seemed alarmingly real.

Now, the pandemic, the popularity of flexible/hybrid working, and the current trend of "quiet quitting"—where employees simply work their hours and fulfill their job requirements—have altered how employees interact with their employers and forced some to reconsider where the lines between work and home life should be. Workers no longer feel obligated to hang out with their employer or the folks they already spend 40 or more hours a week with on Fridays after work; they just want to go home.

Yet can they object?

According to the majority opinion, unless the events are clearly included in an employee's contract, they cannot be forced to attend if they choose not to. As a result, employees who choose to opt out cannot be reprimanded or fired, according to David Jepps, partner in employment law at Keystone Law. Their refusal to participate should not subject them to harassment, intimidation, or discrimination, according to employment law.

Nevertheless, employers may have "reasonable" expectations that staff members would participate in extracurricular activities for team-building purposes or to advance the company. As long as workers are not coerced into breaking the law or the event is not discriminatory, employers can even require attendance, according to Justin Murray, an employment partner at the legal firm Spencer West (for example, the activity does not go on so late it makes it difficult for workers with children to arrange childcare).

Additionally, if a worker consistently misses company functions to the point that it negatively impacts his or her capacity to execute the job, the employer may issue a directive to the absent worker to show up. If instructed to go, he or she may face disciplinary action if they don't.

"An employee’s continued failure could also be considered poor performance, and a capability procedure may be used by an employer to encourage improved attendance at work social events. This would be an aggressive step to take," according to Andrew Czechowski, an associate in the employment department at the law firm Simkins.



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