Christmas parties: dos and don’ts

Although it’s only November, Christmas is fast approaching. With many company Christmas parties and events scheduled over the next few weeks, putting a plan in place now will ensure these events are enjoyable and incident free.

Do – include all employees

All members of staff, regardless of their religion or belief, should be invited to any Christmas events. Failing to invite a certain religion because they do not recognise or celebrate Christmas could lead to claims of religious discrimination. Considering a name change for the event, such as ‘work party’ or ‘end of year celebration’, will ensure all staff feel welcome.

The needs of all staff should also be catered for. For example, any food offerings should include options that meet religious requirements and dietary requirements such as vegetarianism or veganism.

Don’t – advocate excessive alcohol drinking

Having an open bar, or promoting alcohol use, will suggest the employer is condoning excessive drinking and is likely to lead to the employee successfully claiming that any drunken misconduct can be attributed to the company. This would make the employer liable for any consequences of the employees’ drunken misconduct.

Rather than having a free bar, considering offering a complimentary alcoholic drink on arrival or having ‘happy hours’ throughout the event. Plenty of soft drinks should also be available for those who don’t drink alcohol.

Do – remind staff that this event may be classed as part of their employment

Before the party, a staff memo or email can be sent out to employees explaining the standard of behaviour that is expected of them and what conduct will be considered inappropriate. Staff should also be reminded that because this is a company organised event it is likely to be viewed as part of their employment, therefore, the normal company rules apply and they can be disciplined for any misconduct.

Not only is this reminder important to ensure the party is trouble free, it can also be used as evidence at tribunal that the company has taken all reasonable steps to limit the risk of inappropriate conduct.

Don’t – set a bad example

Although it’s a fun event for everyone invited, the managers and other senior employees should be reminded about the example they will set for others in the business. Misconduct on the part of managers should be addressed as a disciplinary matter, in the same way as any other misconduct.

There are numerous examples in cases about bad behaviour of senior managers. In one, a Managing Director repeatedly assaulted a junior manager at a post-Christmas party drinking session. Although the company was not liable in this situation, the behaviour and bad example of the Managing Director is likely to create uncomfortable and difficult working relationships once back in the office.

Do – think about what will happen after the party

Employers may be viewed as responsible for the employee’s actions on their journey home so should consider what will happen once the party ends.

When alcohol is on offer, consider practicalities such as how staff will travel home. Having a designated driver scheme in place, promoting the use of public transport or agreeing lower fares with a local taxi firm, will limit the risk of employees drink-driving.

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