Christmas parties are back: HR ground rules

Gemma O'Connor - Head of Service

December 08 2022

First published: November 30th 2022
Last updated: December 8th 2022


With COVID restrictions now consigned to the past, the office Christmas party promises to provide a long-awaited opportunity for your business to celebrate coming through the pandemic.

Reports suggest that this year’s Christmas party season is back with a bang so to make sure your celebrations hit the right note, it’s a good idea to remind staff of the standards of behaviour you expect.

Inappropriate behaviour at work

The Christmas party should be a chance for everyone to meet in a more relaxed environment and to celebrate another year in a successful business.  

The danger from a HR point of view is that employees may be more likely to act inappropriately once they are away from the professional environment of the workplace. And unprofessional employee behaviour can lead to devastating consequences for your business.

Here are some of the most common Christmas party HR concerns for employers….

Alcohol consumption

A majority of staff will likely enjoy a drink on a night out. Employers also like to show their appreciation for their team members by covering the cost of a meal and a few rounds or even the drinks bill for the whole night.

Each business has its own unique culture and it’s important to do what’s best for your team but you should at minimum remind staff of the behaviour that is expected at the party. Too much booze can cloud people’s decision making. The last thing you want is the prospect of dealing with an alcohol-fuelled brawl or harassment allegations.  

It’s also a good idea to ensure everyone has arrangements for getting home safely after having a few drinks.

Harassment and vicarious liability

When the Christmas party takes place off site, there is a risk that employees may think that company policies on preventing bullying, harassment and sexual harassment are less applicable. This is of course not the case and it’s a good idea to remind all staff that these policies apply equally to work-related social events.

And don’t forget victims of harassment can sue their employers in circumstances where the employer has failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring.  

Health & Safety considerations

Although many businesses will choose a restaurant or other suitable venue, some employers may decide to host Christmas celebrations in the workplace. If you’re planning a party in your premises, don’t forget your health & safety obligations. Control measures to minimise the risk of slips and trips, fire hazards and safe access to your building should all be borne in mind. If in doubt about your health & safety obligations outside of working hours, seek the help of a health & safety expert.

Social media

Many employees may be accustomed to sharing pictures or videos from a night out with their connections on social media. You should have a social media policy in place confirming that all staff must respect the privacy rights of their colleagues and uphold the company’s reputation online.

Post-party absences

If employees have work the next day, it’s important to remind staff of the rules that apply. Some employers may loosen the timekeeping rules for staff if the circumstances allow but it should be clarified that no-shows or turning up for work intoxicated for instance will not be tolerated.

Disciplinary procedures

Which brings us to discipline. The risk for employers is that an offsite Christmas party descends into an unruly affair where staff behave inappropriately. Remind staff that the disciplinary policy is there for a reason and that the end of year celebrations do not provide a licence to misbehave.

Send an update confirming that employees may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal should they be found to be in breach of company policies.

Final Christmas Party tips

Be wary of putting people under too much pressure to turn up. Not all staff enjoy large gatherings so reassure everyone that there is no obligation to attend.

Try to keep it as inclusive as possible. You may have vegetarians, vegans and non-drinkers to cater for. Providing options for everyone will ensure no one feels left out.

It’s no harm to ask one member of your management team to remain sober and to ask that person to deal with any incidents that arise.

Finally, have some fun! It’s been a tough couple of years and it’s important to celebrate the wins. With the right precautions in place, everyone should feel comfortable to have a good time.

Need HR help preparing your work-related event?

Christmas party season is here.

If you don’t feel prepared for hosting an end-of-year celebration, call us today for HR advice on how to manage work events in the right way together with help updating your documentation if necessary.

Call 1800 719 216 now to speak with a Peninsula expert.  

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