The Employers’ Christmas Party Survival Guide
Ah, the office Christmas party! We’ve all been there – the good ones, the bad ones and we all remember the ugly ones. They are normally great and enjoyable occasions but for an employer they can be a potential legal minefield. Scrooge would ban them all. That’s a little excessive so below is a brief survival guide which should help you get through this year’s party unscathed.
The first thing to understand is that even if the party is held outside normal working hours and away from work premises it will still be viewed as being “at work”. This means that as an employer you may be liable for the acts of your employees during the party and this extends to acts of harassment, discrimination, and bullying. You also have a duty of care to your employees to ensure their health and safety when attending.
The party invitations
You must be inclusive to avoid any allegations of discrimination. So invite all employees, even those on maternity/paternity/sick leave and do not make attendance compulsory or pressurise people to attend. Invitations to partners should of course include same sex partners.
Make sure the venue is accessible by all employees – it must have suitable access and facilities for those with disabilities and be suitable for people of all ages. Avoid venues which might offend those of a particular religion or sex.
Set clear guidelines on accepted standards of behaviour. Do it in writing. Make it clear that unacceptable behaviour will be treated in the same way as if it happened during normal working hours. Warn staff that excessive alcohol consumption, discrimination, fighting, harassment etc will not be tolerated and could result in disciplinary action. Refer to your employment contracts and Policies and Procedures.
The Post Party Sickie!
Warn employees of the consequences of next day lateness, non attendance or arriving under the influence of alcohol. Importantly, monitor behaviour the next day to make sure no one arrives at work drunk (especially if using machinery).
Food and Alcohol
The free bar is a nightmare! People will get drunk no matter how careful you are and drunken behaviour can lead to employment tribunal claims. Consider limiting the amount of alcohol people can drink, provide non alcoholic options and enough food to “soak it up”. Remember not to let anyone aged under 18 drink.
You have a duty to minimise the risk of accidents such as slipping or tripping or falling down stairs, and you should take reasonable steps to get people home safely after the party. Check that no one is going to drink and drive, supply local taxi numbers or end the party early enough for employees to use public transport.
Be sensitive to those who do not drink alcohol or who do not eat specific foods and ensure the catering satisfies all dietary requirements.
Do your best to limit the chance of your entertainer offending or harassing employees as you could end up on the wrong end of a claim! Check the material first if you can and ban offensive or discriminatory language or behaviour.
Within seconds of the party starting the photos will start to appear on Facebook and Twitter etc. Inappropriate images and comments may follow. This could cause offence, damage the businesses image/reputation and damage trust between colleagues. Make sure all employees are aware of the consequences of doing so and draw their attention to your Social Media Policy (assuming you have one).