City firms will this week review policies on alcohol consumption and even relationships between staff, as the profession comes to terms with an unprecedented tribunal finding in the case of a former partner at magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Last week’s decision is believed to be the first time the tribunal has found misconduct in relation to sexual activity between colleagues.
Freshfields has already started a firm-wide programme to ensure consistent standards of staff behaviour, with managers promising to make changes where this is not happening.
A theme of the Beckwith case was alcohol consumption, whether celebrating on an ‘away day’ or drinking after work.
There is now a growing sense that firms may need to be more prescriptive with rules about drinking and relationships between staff. The days of rewarding staff with alcohol-fuelled celebrations, or partners buying drinks for their teams, may also be numbered as firms fear for their reputations.
An HR director at a leading firm told the Gazette that some organisations are starting to send reminders of responsibilities to staff before organised events, although it is accepted that boundaries are blurred outside the office. Guidance notices are becoming more common and training is being stepped up to raise awareness about acceptable conduct.
Several City firms confirm they have policies not just for harassment and bullying, but also for alcohol consumption.
One firm said while it continues to serve alcohol at internal and client events, drinking is not considered an acceptable excuse for ignoring policies and procedures.
Anecdotally, the Gazette has heard of senior lawyers being carried from office parties in front of junior teams because they are so intoxicated.
While misconduct onsite can be managed, the Beckwith case may prompt firms to impose rules that stretch further.