‘Tis the Season to be Jolly!

December 1, 2020

But what happens when your employees get a little too jolly at the Christmas party?

Christmas is a time for celebration and the annual Christmas party is a great way to thank your staff for their work throughout the year and provide an opportunity for employees to relax and enjoy themselves. But employers risk a New Year’s headache if they fail to understand their legal responsibilities. With alcohol flowing and inhibitions reduced, the potential for misplaced humour or unwanted sexual advances leading to legal liability for discrimination or harassment is an unwelcome risk for employers.

When it comes to the annual Christmas party or indeed any other work-related function, employers have a duty of care for their staff members, even if it is held outside working hours and the workplace. Therefore, employers can face paying considerable amounts of compensation if things go wrong. A company can only have a defence if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the act.

What can employers do to prevent such problems arising?

Firstly, always ensure staff understand the ‘ground rules’ for celebrations

No one wants to be a killjoy, but it is important that everyone understands what is acceptable. The consequences of any unacceptable behaviour should be made clear. Perhaps email staff before the party, reminding them of company expectations and include reference to the relevant policies. Explain that any behaviour amounting to misconduct may lead to formal disciplinary action.

Consider the needs of all employees when planning the party

Will the timing and location of the party allow for those who need to arrange childcare to take part?
Will disabled staff need assistance to get to or access the party venue?
Will the food provided meet all employees’ religious and cultural requirements?

‘Elf and Safety!

Make sure steps are taken to protect employees during and after the event; for example,
Put in place arrangements for transport home at the end of the night.
Don’t provide a ‘free’ bar or excessive drinks and provide non-alcoholic alternatives.
Encourage collective responsibility, i.e. make employees responsible for their colleagues (particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and behaviour).

Remember not everyone celebrates Christmas

If you have staff of different faiths for whom Christmas is not a significant festival, ensure that they don’t feel excluded.

Social media shenanigans

Before the rise of social media, bad behaviour and dodgy dancing might have caused a stir on the night but would be long forgotten in the New Year. Nowadays this is no longer the case, given practically every employee has access to a smartphone camera and internet connection. If having drunken Christmas party antics immortalised on social media worries you, ensure you have a social media policy or rules in place, and staff should be reminded of these before the party.

Post-party absenteeism

Managers from various departments should show consistency the morning after the party (if this is a work day); the employer should decide beforehand how lenient or not they are going to be regarding lateness or absenteeism. Again, this should be communicated to employees, so they are fully aware of the consequences of failing to attend work.

And finally…

Remember that most Christmas parties will pass without incident! However, it is still advisable to err on the side of caution and take a proactive approach to minimise the chance of potential problems and if something does occur, don’t be afraid to speak to an expert. For further advice on this topic or any other employee related issues, please contact The HR Team.


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