Works Christmas Party!

Posted: Friday December 13 2019

By: Banner Jones

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration, and as an employer it can also be an opportunity to thank your employees for their hard work throughout the year in the form of a Christmas party. The Christmas party may represent a focal point for you as an employer, however, we would always advise that you proceed with caution to prevent costly disputes from arising. A drink, at your expense, though possibly seen as a rite of passage, can sometimes lead as far as a costly dispute. Disputes, harassment and discrimination can all occur wherever excessive drinking is involved. A common misconception is that because the Christmas party is usually held outside of the workplace, an employer won’t be liable if something goes wrong. This is not true. Employers are responsible for their employees actions carried out in the course of their employment, which normally includes events organised by management, such as the Christmas party.

 

By Katie Ash  & Sara Ellison Employment Lawyers for Banner Jones

 

Though this may sound bleak, you do not have to turn your elaborate plans in to a teetotal soiree! Employers can only be considered liable if they have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination and harassment. Any potential claim against an employer can also be minimised by providing the correct training and ensuring employees are aware of the consequences of discrimination or other inappropriate behaviour.
Employers also have a duty of care to their employees under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This means an employer has to take reasonable steps to ensure employees are not in any danger. In practice, and with regard to the Christmas party, the employer must consider travel arrangements for its employees, so for example ending the party whilst public transport is still available or encouraging staff to use local taxi companies may be one solution.

A prudent employer should understand that Christmas parties, if not managed correctly can give rise to a host of problems, some of which have already been mentioned.

With this in mind, our Christmas gift to you is to provide a list of guidelines to follow:

1. Consider drawing up a Christmas party statement. This method may protect you from any potential problems. As well as setting out the dress code, a code of conduct can also be included, creating clear boundaries that are easy to follow. It may be useful to refer to existing policies on employee conduct.

2. Do not insist that every member of staff attends the party. Christmas, a Christian holiday may not suit those who are of other beliefs. Additionally, family responsibilities for some employees may mean that are not able to attend and this should be respected.

3. Though alcohol will largely be provided by the employer, be careful of the booze flowing in excess and consider having a wide variety of non-alcoholic beverages and food available.

4. Be aware that office juniors may also join in the revelry and have particular regard for them. If these juniors are under 18 then management cannot let them drink.

5. Mistletoe can be dangerous. Employers can find they end up liable for unwanted advances between co-workers. Be vigilant of the interactions taking place.

6. Alcohol can make anyone speak without consideration and so staff performance reviews should be avoided during the party. A promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise!

7. As mentioned, transport arrangements are important. If an employee has had too much to drink, and plans to drive home for example, an employer needs to take responsibility.

This is not an exhaustive list. As an employer you should be mindful of the potential hazards that the Christmas party may induce. If considered, these can be managed effectively and a joy filled evening, celebrating the end of the year with your staff in the correct spirit, can be achieved.

We wish you all a merry Christmas party, and a happy New Year!