As Christmas approaches it’s time once again to review the dangers and pitfalls that result from staff parties. For many years, the annual Christmas bash has been a time to thank staff for their efforts, and for them to have a knees-up‚ π at your expense. However, more recently the doom-mongers have suggested the only way to avoid a claim under the unending raft of legislation is to ban all parties, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Your company Christmas party is a fantastic means of thanking your staff for their hard work over the year and also for building relationships internally within your teams. However, there are some serious considerations to take into account to minimise any post-party dilemmas.
Before the party you should send out a clear statement about acceptable behaviour and the consequences of inappropriate actions. Consider implementing the ‚ ≤Party Rules’ sooner rather than later. Ensure rules are applied fairly across the organisation.
Most ‚ ≤silly antics’ pass without serious incident and are more likely to become the subject of gossip. However, a sensible approach would be to remind staff that it is a work event, so they are still expected to act professionally in line with the company’s ‚ ≤Anti-Harassment’ and ‚ ≤Equal Opportunities’ policies. Fresh HR Insights can help you with these Policies.
These are just a few examples of common Christmas party slip ups:
Distasteful Jokes: Offensive jokes can be an area to be watchful of. Even employees who are generally careful of the risk of banter can get brash when they have had too many drinks. Jokes which single out one specific characteristic such as women may lead to a potential discriminatory claim.
Your managers should still act responsibly at these events, so inform them that if they hear or become aware of something that has been said, which is ‚ ≤questionable,’ to have a quiet word with the employee in question and ask them to apologise. Quick action like this could prevent an employee from making a formal complaint.
Sickness: Sickness may rise during the festive season and a common scenario is the morning after the Christmas party. Those who drank too much the night before may call in sick the following day. A way of avoiding this could be suggesting that staff book annual leave if they feel they may be ‚ ≤too tired’ the next day to come into work.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment claims are one of the biggest risks to employers when the alcohol is flowing. What one person may see as harmless flirting; another could view as unwanted sexual attention. Situations like this have been the grounds for countless claims because of the concept of ‚ ≤vicarious liability’.
Vicarious liability is where an employer is responsible for the actions of its employees during the course of their employment‚ π. Even for Christmas parties, held off-site and with optional attendance, the employer remains legally responsible for its employee’s actions. Your office party is an extension of your normal work environment, whether you have your office party at a separate venue and outside working hours, or not. This also means that employers are held responsible for their employee’s actions.
Do look out for mistletoe encounters – Bear in mind that both the employer and the offending employee may be taken to court by the victim of sexual harassment. The law states that ‚ ≤unwanted conduct with the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, will be unlawful sexual harassment if it is either ‚ ≤on grounds of sex’, or it is ‚ ≤of a sexual nature’.
The key word is unwanted‚ π so watch for the employee who believes, after a few pints of Christmas cheer, that he/she is irresistible to everybody. It may look hilarious to all of the other inebriated members of staff but how is the recipient reacting? Do not provide mistletoe, you are asking for trouble!
Do consider how employees will get home – If a member of staff has clearly drunk too much at the office Christmas party and plans to drive home, the employer needs to take responsibility. The employer has a duty of care to his employees ‚ ¨ and because it’s the company’s party, they must think about travel arrangements. Consider ending the party before public transport stops running; or provide the phone numbers for local cab companies and encourage staff to use them or you could lay on transport for them.
Don’t hold the Party on your premises – Photocopying body parts may seem good fun at the time, but sitting on a glass panel which is not built for such treatment may result in more than the party-goer intended. Dancing on desks is likely to cause damage to property and people and amounts to misuse of company property. Make it clear that such activities will not be tolerated or that certain parts of the office are out of bounds on the night of the party. Better still; don’t hold the party on your premises. Remember ‚ ¨ the employer may be held liable for the employee’s behaviour and any Work Cover Claims
Don’t give unlimited drinks – A few drinks on the boss at Christmas is expected and a good way to reward staff for their efforts during the year but extremes may amount to negligence.
Most, if not all, incidents at Christmas parties, quite unsurprisingly, are caused by excess drinking. You do not want to limit people to such an extent that it is not worth having a party, but unlimited alcohol goes too far. If there is endless free drink provided and a member of staff gets involved in a fight, he/she could use this in his/her defence at any tribunal.
Do remind employees of your policies and procedures concerning their behaviour – Even if the event takes place off-site your disciplinary rules and other employment policies, such as those on equal opportunities, harassment and bullying, may still apply. Remind staff that inappropriate behaviour could result in their dismissal
Suggested considerations for ‚ ≤Party Rules’:-
- A risk assessment if the party is to be held in the office so that any potential hazards are out of bounds
- If partners are being invited, ensure that both, opposite and same sex partners are included
- Do not encourage staff to overindulge with alcohol; a responsible Company would limit the amount of alcohol supplied by them
- Remind managers to avoid discussing employment contractual matters like salary, promotion, or working relationships within the teams.
- Decide to what extent you will be lenient with staff on the day after the office party, encourage staff to apply for a day’s holiday if they think that they will not be fit enough to work the next day
- Investigate all allegations of discrimination promptly, fairly, and in a sensitive manner.
Do have fun!
Most people rely on common-sense to enjoy themselves and employers should not get that carried away with rules and regulations and limits on what people can and cannot do so that it spoils the whole point of having a party in the first place.
Don’t be a Scrooge, just take sensible precautions and make sure that somebody is keeping sober and looking after the well-being of the employer and employee.