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Tis the season to party! Advice for employers

08 December 2014

As the Christmas party season gets into full swing, everyone wants to enjoy themselves, celebrate and let their hair down. After a long year of work, it’s the least we all deserve.

One of the biggest headaches employers face is how to maintain decorum, avoid arguments and to ensure everyone has fun.

Employees may not usually socialise with each other outside of the workplace and putting them together as a group along with liberal amounts of alcohol might be risky business. Employees may display a different side to that normally seen in the workplace and you could find that you have to pay the price where an employee oversteps the mark.

Christmas parties have a habit of keeping Employment Tribunals busy well into the New Year as well as distracting from work that needs to be done. Threatening behaviour is a common offence committed at office parties as is harassment, bullying and discrimination on grounds of race, sex and age. Therefore whilst office parties should be an opportunity to boost staff morale and for staff to socialize, it is important to set clear boundaries before the event and to check your employment policies are up to date.

Whatever the makeup of your team, the office party should be seen as an extension of the office. As an employer you are responsible for the actions of your employees and conduct at an office Christmas party will be classed as occurring in the ‘course of employment’. Should something go wrong, you will need to show that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the incident happening.

There are a few considerations to think about to ensure that your office Christmas party goes off without a hitch and is as enjoyable as you want it to be:

Set clear boundaries

Make sure that all staff know that there is a level of behaviour which is expected at all times and that inappropriate behaviour and unwanted conduct will be dealt with in the same way as if it happened in work time/the office. In an age of social media this is especially important as evidence of any wrongdoing may be captured on film and posted on the internet instantly so could have much greater repercussions for the reputation of the company as a whole.

Where and when?

If a party is being held outside of normal work hours then not everyone may be able to attend. It should however be as inclusive as possible to ensure that everyone feels comfortable. If you are inviting partners, this should be open to all couples – those who may be married, cohabiting or in civil partnerships. Don’t forget to invite those who are employed but currently away from the office such as employees on maternity leave.

Food and drink

Consider limiting the amount of alcohol on offer and ensure there is a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks, particularly where you may have employees who do not drink alcohol. Providing food is always a good idea but make sure there is a variety available, including non-meat dishes.

If a situation develops

If an employee does overstep the mark then it may be appropriate to send them home straight away to avoid the situation escalating. You should arrange to discuss the matter with them at the earliest opportunity when you are back in a normal work environment rather than deal with the issue there and then when emotions may be fuelled by alcohol.

Take all complaints seriously and investigate all the facts

Often a case may arise where an employer has failed to take a complaint against a member of staff seriously. Where complaints are made following the party, you should treat them in the same way as any other workplace grievance and if necessary discipline members of staff. It’s important that you adhere to fair procedures and at the very least you follow the ACAS Code of Practice. Failure to undertake an adequate investigatory and disciplinary process could result in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Keep managers in check

Employees of all levels should behave and the management team is no exception. In particular, there should be no discussion of pay and performance and certainly no promises made to review pay either.

One for the road

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ towards employees so take steps to prevent employees from driving home and consider providing transport or holding the party at a venue which is easy for employees to travel home from.

The morning after

Don’t expect everyone to be on time and as bright as a button if you have provided a free bar the night before. Make it clear to staff however what will be allowed in terms of late arrival or absence or consider holding the party on the weekend.

Whilst the party season should be a time to celebrate the success of the year and the hard work of all the team it shouldn’t be an excuse for ‘anything goes’. By getting the basics right before the event, it should be possible for everyone to enjoy the celebrations without any cause for concern.

Wishing you all a safe and happy festive period!