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Top tips for ensuring a merry and peaceful workplace over this festive period

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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

As we approach the end of the year, many employers will be looking back at the successes in the business over the last 12 months, and thinking of ways they can celebrate with their employees and reward them for their hard work. But how can an employer ensure that the festivities go without a bang.

Holding a social event for employees can have several benefits, including, helping employees to feel appreciated and valued as well as increased employee engagement. Although work-related social events are intended to be a positive and well-meaning event, there are risks that can arise even with these good intentions.

It is important to consider the impact any plans could have on individual with a protected characteristic, and what alternatives there are to avoid this. Key ones to think about are religion or belief, disability, and pregnancy.

The location of the event needs to be selected carefully to ensure it’s accessible and suitable for all employees to attend. Some considerations to be taken into account include:

·         How close the event is to the workplace and employees’ home, and whether it is accessible by various means of transport

  • Accessibility for disabled employees
  • The availability of seating and places to rest
  • The location’s environment and culture
  • Entry specifications, such as whether underage staff are allowed in.

Where food will be available at the event, a range of refreshments should be provided considering religious observance and dietary requirements. There is also a risk where free, alcoholic drinks are provided to employees. Not only does this not take into account non-drinkers, whether by choice or through religious observance, it also creates a risk that the organisation is seen to condone and encourage excessive alcohol drinking. Alternatives could be to provide drinks vouchers, so the employee has a free choice of what they have or subsidising the cost of all drinks.

Work related social events are likely seen as an extension of the attendees’ employment, and so employers should be aware of the risk of liability for any actions carried out by employees at these events as there will be a close connection between their employment, the event and any actions undertaken at the event. As a result, unlawful acts such as discrimination, harassment or physical or sexual assaults can be attributed to the organisation, which is then liable for compensation or damages.

To limit the risk, organisations can take steps beforehand:

  • Implement a work-related social events policy within the workplace policies.
  • Send a letter to all members of staff reminding them that their behaviour should remain professional and appropriate
  • Have a workplace notice on appropriate conduct at the event.

Ensuring staff understand the rules, and what behaviour is expected of them during the event, enable any rule breaches or inappropriate behaviour to be addressed on their return to work.

It is also a good time to make sure there is a relationship at work policy in place and remind staff about it. Whilst employees have a right to a private life, close personal relationships can be troublesome where employees are unable to draw an important distinction between private and professional life. The policy should place certain expectations on employees and their managers to ensure that there is no blurring of judgment or conflict of interest issues.

It can also be a season of gift giving but if the purpose of offering a gift or hospitality is to influence someone to do something improperly, that could be considered bribery.  Whilst some level of giving and receiving of gifts and hospitality is acceptable, this should be defined for employees and the possibility of it being seen as bribery should be raised. Employees should be told how to deal with any situations where gifts or hospitality is offered, and they are requested to do something in return. A register of gifts and hospitality, and their approximate value, should be kept.

Finally, if you are considering rewarding staff with a Christmas bonus, the likelihood of issues arising can be reduced by implementing a well-thought-out scheme that is conditional on the performance of the employee and other terms being met. Usual conditions which are placed on bonuses include minimum profit levels; the employee having to hit certain targets or objectives before becoming eligible for a bonus.

 

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