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Office Christmas Party Do's and Don'ts

As we approach the time of year when our minds are turning to the all-encompassing Christmas party, we discuss with our Head of Employment, Doug Frame some of the issues for employers to bear in mind for an incident free celebration.

This subject often crops up in the media every year. Are there really issues that employers need to think about?

I always reflect on the American movie “The Office Christmas Party”. If you have seen it you are reminded of the scenes with the branch manager crashing down the stairs on a sled, the head of IT being too close to his inappropriate date and the snow machine which was meant to pump out snow but instead pumped out, let’s just say for the purposes of this article, white dust. This led to the client they were seeking to impress for business, swinging from the holiday lights – which for those who haven’t seen it, didn’t end well!

Everyone understands that staff will wish to let their hair down and employers will be willing to indulge in the festive celebrations, but this is a good time to remind all that there are a number of things to consider in order to ensure (in the case of an employer) there are no consequences which lead to claims – and in the case of the employee, you’re not facing the dreaded fear of shame on your return to work, which may or may not result in further action.

Has the impact of Covid and current guidelines had any effect on the issues we should be considering?

Health and safety should be considered first and foremost. This should also be checked with the venue you have chosen to host. Will staff be required to be (double) vaccinated or wear masks? Do I need to consider those who may have issues with this? What arrangements have been made for employees to get home safely? These are less issues of legality though and more part and parcel of being a responsible employer during the current period.

Do we need to worry about being accused of discrimination by hosting a ‘Christmas’ event?

It is true that employers do need to consider other beliefs and religions. But the issue is really whether staff are either prevented from, or put off, attending? In reality, it’s unlikely that an employment tribunal would find a Christmas party discriminating, but some employers who have a particularly diverse workforce may want to consider the title, just to be as inclusive as possible.

Are there any good tips for managing an event?

Once you have decided your approach, it’s not a bad idea to write/email employees and those invited guests setting out the plans. Even though this may be an out of work event, you are responsible for the staff and they in turn are responsible for their behaviour. Of course there can be some middle ground but it’s important staff and invited guests know the boundaries. You are not a horrible employer for doing so, just setting the tone for the event.

And what if things unfortunately do get out of hand?

Well hopefully they don’t, but no strategy can avoid every possibility and there are some tales from office Christmas parties that none of us would want to be associated with!

It might be worth speaking to a suitable senior employee who is not drinking, to ‘monitor behaviour’ and step in where needed. It may sound a bit ‘school disco’ but that’s not what I mean. Just ensuring that there is one person who may be able to help if there are issues – such as note down anything that has happened and take appropriate action where needed, for example making sure someone gets a taxi safely.

Consuming high volumes of alcohol can be the catalyst for serious legal issues, with incidents of bad behaviour, discrimination or harassment the most common issues we see. People who you would not expect to do so can act out of character when drinking. Therefore, such behaviour, even though outside the workplace and normal office hours, can lead to a risk that the employer is liable for the acts of its staff and in some cases the employee may also be personally liable.

Absolute golden rule? Never, ever dismiss someone on the spot. It is unlikely that, whatever the behaviour, this course of action will be acceptable.

And finally, do you receive loads of new instructions every year after Christmas Party Season?

Despite the media attention that always occurs over this issue, the truth is a vast majority of these events go without any issues arising – so the answer is no.However, having clear guidance and directions in place, some of which are mentioned above, will put you in a better position to be able to deal and/or cope with unforeseen events on the night and the following days.

And, as always, myself and my colleague Lucy at Fosters can help with any advice if you are about to hold and/or organise your party, and we are here to help with any issues that arise.

If you would like to contact our Employment team please call 01603 620508 or email.

This article was produced on the 7th December 2021 by our Employment team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.