The 12 rules of the Company Christmas Party

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The annual Christmas party offers an opportunity to reward hard work and celebrate the year’s achievements. However, for employers, a cocktail of alcohol consumption, mixed personalities and workplace chat can create a hangover that lasts far beyond the next morning. Whilst not wishing to be a killjoy it is a good idea to remind employees that the Christmas party is a work event and here are some rules to follow:

1.Discourage workplace gossip.

Christmas parties and work social events can lead to inevitable workplace gossip. Employers may consider making it clear to employees that workplace gossip is likely to cause harm to others and should be discouraged.

2. Avoid making promises.

Due to the cost-of-living crisis, pay is at the forefront of many people’s minds right now, and employees may be more likely to bring this up within a casual setting. Alcohol can loosen tongues, so managers should avoid discussing work-related matters, such as performance, promotion or remuneration at the office Christmas do. This will avoid employees seeking to rely on informal promises made.

3. Set guidance and boundaries.

Christmas parties can be a catalyst for Employment Tribunal claims. Employers should provide clear written guidance to all employees and this includes senior managers and directors about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events as well as the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules. Whilst this may seem Scrooge-like, it demonstrates that reasonable pro-active measures have been taken to protect employees.

4. Prevent vicarious liability.

Vicarious liability involves an employer being liable for the wrongs committed by an employee where there is a sufficient connection between those wrongs and the employee’s employment. Legally, the work Christmas party can be considered as an extension of the workplace, even if it is held at a separate venue and outside of working hours. Any allegations of harassment should trigger the usual disciplinary, grievance and equal opportunities policies being followed, and proper investigations carried out upon returning to work. Offending employees at the actual event should not be disciplined at the event. Dismissing a member of staff at the Christmas party is not a good move.  If an employee is being objectionable, they should be requested to leave. Following the event an investigation should be undertaken in accordance with the employer’s disciplinary procedure and, if appropriate, disciplinary action taken.

5. Invite everyone, with no exceptions.

To prevent any suggestion of discrimination, make sure to invite all colleagues, including homeworkers, those who are on sick leave, maternity leave, adoption leave or any other type of leave. Christmas is a Christian holiday, so there should be no pressure for employees to attend social events if they do not wish to on religious grounds. If the event is out of hours, remember that some employees have family responsibilities that may prevent attendance. If planning to invite people’s partners, employers should also be conscious not to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation.

6. Keep a close eye on alcohol consumption.

Maintaining a free bar throughout the evening may encourage excessive alcohol intake. In some cases, alcohol-fuelled behaviour can amount to a gross misconduct offence, which may result in dismissal without notice. In one case, three employees dismissed for fighting after seven hours of drinking at a free bar successfully argued that their dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was that the employer had provided a free bar. Employers should not allow under-18s to drink, so any younger employees should be monitored carefully.

7. Be inclusive and accommodate everyone.

Whilst celebratory drinks are often the focal point of Christmas parties, not all employees will drink alcohol. A plentiful supply of alcohol-free alternatives will help to foster an inclusive atmosphere. Employers should also remember that employees with certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat certain foods. Therefore, the employer should ask beforehand about any special dietary requirements so that these can be accommodated.

8. Remind employees of social media policy.

With social media it is very easy for photo evidence from Christmas parties to end up online. Employees should be reminded of the employer’s social media policy and the consequences of bringing the employer into disrepute.

9. Get employees home.

Although the work party itself is classed as an extension of the workplace, employers may wish to clarify that continued festivities after the official event ends is neither endorsed nor funded by the employer. Employers may also be held responsible for employees driving home from an office party. It is therefore advisable to consider issuing advice about drink-driving, providing transport home, or at least, communicating the public transport options.

10. Monitor absences.

Employers should ensure that their policies and procedures regarding annual leave are readily available to employees. If an office social event is scheduled for an evening when the next day is a working day, employers should make it clear that staff are expected to attend as normal, unless they have booked annual leave.

11. Be wary of ‘Secret Santa’.

If teams are running a Secret Santa, employers may seek to advise employees that gifts should be inoffensive. Inappropriate humour is not suitable for the workplace and could amount to an act of harassment in some circumstances.

12. Ensure insurance is up to date.

To ensure that they are fully protected, employers should check that their employer’s liability insurance and directors’ and officers’ insurance policies are up to date ahead of social events.

To summarise, whilst the festive period is a time to reward hard work and celebrate achievements, employers must be mindful of potential problems. Employers should take pre-emptive action to minimise risks and be receptive to act accordingly when issues arise.

Finally Happy Christmas from the Taylor Walton Employment Team!

How can Taylor Walton help you? Taylor Walton’s Employment Law team can assist employers with concerns relating to issues arising over the festive period and can be contacted here.

Disclaimer: General Information Provided Only
Please note that the contents of this article are intended solely for general information purposes and should not be considered as legal advice. We cannot be held responsible for any loss resulting from actions or inactions taken based on this article.

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