An office Christmas party can be a great occasion to relax with your employees and fellow colleagues and thank them for their hard work throughout the year. The flip side of that of course is that sometimes Christmas parties can descend into chaos especially where the alcohol is freely flowing and this can represent a potential legal minefield for Employers.
We believe that being prepared is preferable to returning back to the office and having to investigate a whole plethora of incidents related to your employees’ Christmas frolics.
So here is a handy survival guide for ensuring that your Christmas party does not end in tears.
Planning your social occasion
- Avoid discrimination claims by considering the planning of your event, for instance does it clash with any other religious holidays. You could also consider an alternative benefit for those employees who do not wish to attend the Christmas party on religious or other grounds.
- Ensure that you invite those employees who are currently on maternity/paternity leave as failure to include them may offend them and give them the opportunity to raise complaints of discrimination. Similarly, do remember to invite those employees who are on long term sick.
- If you work with individuals who possess a disability then it is important to ensure the venue has disabled access.
- When organising the food and drink ensure that you have suitable food options for those employees of different faiths/dietary needs.
- Employers and employees should remember that a works Christmas party is a workplace activity and as an employer you may be held vicariously liable for any acts committed by your employees at the party itself which may be considered as misconduct, harassment or discrimination, even where such acts have taken place outside work hours.
- Employers should also be aware of the duty of care owed by them to their employees in terms of ensuring their health and safety.
- Issue a memo to employees in advance of your Christmas party reminding them that it is a workplace activity and of the standard of conduct expected of them. Remind them that they are required to observe your policies (you can make specific reference to your relevant policies such as alcohol and drug policy, bullying and harassment, etc) and that they are expected to behave appropriately. Inform employees that they are representing your organisation and they should not bring it into disrepute. Notify them that inappropriate behaviour may lead to disciplinary action and potentially dismissal.
The Christmas Party
- Limit the alcohol intake! Employment Tribunals in recent years have been less than sympathetic to employers who offer a “free” bar at their social functions. It is advisable to offer a limited number of drinks or bottles of wine with food. Remember to provide a suitable alternative to those who are not drinking alcohol and if you employ people under the age of 18, watch out for underage drinking.
- Appoint at least one member of management to take responsibility for overseeing the party and keeping a look out for troublesome situations. It goes without saying that this person should limit their alcohol intake.
- Employers should advise Managers to avoid “talking shop” and not to discuss matters such as promotions or remuneration, as it is unwise for employers to assume that conversations at social occasions will not be repeated, relied upon or have no legal enforceability.
Post Party dilemmas
- Whilst it is often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, with employees having instant access to social media sites such as facebook and Twitter from their mobile phones, it might be sensible to remind them of your social media policy and in particular make them aware that posting any inappropriate photos and material which could adversely affect the organisations reputation will be considered unacceptable misconduct and may lead to disciplinary action and potentially dismissal.
- Employers should also inform those employees who are expected to attend work the day after the party of their expectations ie. That they must not be under the influence of alcohol, especially if they drive or operate machinery as part of their day to day duties.
Finally try and have fun!