Company Christmas parties - Do's and Don'ts

It’s that time of year again, the time of year that many an HR Manager dreads – the office Christmas party. For all of your seasoned HR professionals out there, you are probably already aware of the potential pitfalls – however for those of you who are perhaps unaware of the issues that could arise, we have put together this handy guide to ensure your Christmas party goes off with a bang… for all the right reasons! 

1. Party Rules 

Now of course, you don’t want to be a complete scrooge, however as a business owner or HR Manager it’s always a good idea to have a few party rules to make sure everyone has a good time.  Most importantly, employees should be aware that whilst they are at the Christmas party they are still ‘on duty’ so to speak – so any unacceptable behaviour can still be dealt with as a potential disciplinary matter.   You don’t need to go overboard – but a gentle reminder of the following before the party can help set the boundaries before the bubbles are opened:

  • Don’t encourage staff to go overboard with the alcohol – encourage them to have a good time, but remind them they are still classed as being at work, and any inappropriate behaviour dealt with as if they were in the office. 
  • Remind managers to avoid discussing any contractual matters such as pay rises, bonuses or confidential staff matters. 

2. The morning after…

If an employee fails to turn up for work the day after the party, his or her absence should be investigated and he or she should be required to certify the reason for the absence in the usual way. If there is no adequate explanation for the absence it may be treated as unauthorised and subject to the disciplinary process like any other unauthorised absence. Lateness can also be treated as a disciplinary offence, depending on the employer's usual requirements in relation to timekeeping.

3. Distasteful jokes 

We all know that after a few beverages people can become a bit more ‘fluid’ in their conversations.  Whilst most banter is unlikely to be harmful, it is always good to be aware of any situations that are possibly getting out of hand, conversations that are potentially heading into dangerous waters.  Any ‘jokes’ that over step the mark, or are borderline discriminatory should be quashed to avoid them blowing out of proportion.  Ask your managers to be aware of this, and ask them to have a quiet word with the perpetrator if they feel things are getting out of hand. 

4. Look out for mistletoe encounters

As mentioned above, the work party is still considered to be a working environment in the eyes of the law – so any ‘unwanted conduct’ could potentially leave your organisation at risk of a potential harassment claim if not dealt with.  The key word is ‘unwanted’ so watch out for that employee who thinks that after a few pints of Christmas cheer they are completely irresistible to everybody. It may be funny to all of the other inebriated members of staff, but how is the recipient responding? Just be aware and deal with any situations that appear to be getting out of hand.  Probably wise to avoid providing mistletoe too! 

5. Booze

It’s not all about the booze.  Whilst some colleagues may see the Christmas party as a time to let their hair down and indulge, don’t forget about the employees that don’t drink. If you are providing alcohol for the team, don’t forget to make sure there are plenty of soft drinks too.  Also, think twice about providing unlimited free drinks – as well as damaging your bank balance, if there is endless booze available and an employee were to be involved in a fight, he/she could use this in their defence if there were a tribunal claim for any reason. 

6. Home time

Consider how staff are going to get home.  Your business still has a duty of care to look after employees whilst they are at the Christmas party – so you must think about travel arrangements if there is going to be alcohol.  Your Directors are ‘vicariously liable’ for the actions of its company’s employees during employment – so remember this covers the Christmas Party.  For example, an employer may be liable if an employee is involved in a drink-driving related accident on the way home from the work Christmas party. Employers also have a duty of care towards non-employees such as other road users.

By taking reasonable steps in advance of the party, employers can reduce the likelihood of employees taking undue risks on their journey home, and reduce their own risk of liability as a result. Steps that employers could take include:

  • reminding employees before the party to organise their trip home (for example by checking last train times or designating a willing driver who agrees not to consume alcohol);
  • hiring transport to take employees home where appropriate;
  • ensuring that there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available and providing these to designated drivers free of charge; and/or
  • providing employees with the numbers of local taxi firms prior to the party.

And finally… have a good time! If you do have any issues following the party make sure they are dealt with swiftly, and in line with your company policies. 

Please note this article is for information only, and should not be considered as legal advice.

We hope you find this information helpful but please keep in mind that it does not constitute legal advice and we can not be held responsible for any inaccuracies or damages that may result.

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