When that time of year rolls around again and you need to start planning the office Christmas party, it’s understandable for employers to be concerned about the accompanying potential legal pitfalls. However, don’t forget that Christmas parties are a great opportunity to lift staff morale and give your employees a rewarding social occasion, so don’t be put off hosting them – the pitfalls are avoidable if you plan effectively and give careful consideration to your staff’s needs in advance.

Our Employment Department have put together the following list of considerations to keep in mind when planning the work’s Christmas do:-

It’s a work-related event

When planning a party, employers should remember that any event they host is legally considered an extension of the working environment, even when out of office hours and outside of the workplace. The same duties therefore apply. You should bear in mind that employers can potentially be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees if those actions are deemed to have been committed in the course of employment.

Attendees

Employers should remember that all employees should be invited, including anyone on maternity or paternity leave, and even those on sick leave, where appropriate. People of other faiths should not be forgotten as it is likely they will wish to attend for the social side and it is still an end of year treat after all.

The Venue

When choosing the venue, employers should ensure that it is accessible to all. For example, a venue with a flight of stairs leading to the entrance would not necessarily be suited to any disabled employees. The venue must also not be likely to cause offence to anyone. For example, a strip club may be desirable to some employees, but it will not appeal to all!

Merriment

This is the big one. If alcohol is available, consider forms of “damage limitation” in order to prevent employees from drinking too much. It may be a good idea for employers to send a polite email beforehand to remind employees that it is a work-related event and a certain level of professionalism is still expected – especially if there is going to be a free bar or free drinks with a meal. If you are going to supply free alcohol, you should ensure that soft drinks are also available for non-drinkers. You may also consider designating managers to monitor staff and to keep an eye out for any underage employees.

Inappropriate Behaviour

Employers are still responsible for any unacceptable behaviour from their employees towards one another and third parties. This includes sexual harassment and anything that could be classed as rude or bullying. No one wants to be a party-pooper, but you might wish to consider providing written guidance to all employees about the acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, and the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaching them.

Social Media

The run up to the Christmas party provides a perfect time to review your social media policies – nobody wants inappropriate and undesirable pictures of staff or management ending up on social media sites for all to see.

Discussions to Avoid

Management should take care not to discuss any employee performance or remuneration at events outside of work. This is inappropriate and can lead to disputes over what was discussed or agreed.

Post Party Absenteeism

If your employees have to work the day after the party, they should be reminded what is expected of them in terms of start times and work. A consistent approach to disciplinary action for unacceptable absenteeism should be taken, but it is also worth remembering that people do genuinely get ill at this time of year.

Pre-party Tips

To summarise, here’s a few tips for before the event:-

  • Make it clear to all employees that the Christmas Party (and any after party) is a work function and so an appropriate standard of conduct is expected.
  • Remind staff that attendance is not compulsory
  • Ensure that all staff know to observe the employer’s policies, including those relating to conduct, equal opportunities, bullying and harassment, and social media
  • Advise staff that, if drinking alcohol, they should drink responsibly, and that under no circumstances should anyone drink and drive. Make it known that non-alcoholic drinks will be available
  • Prewarn that drunken and/or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse and harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature will not be tolerated and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action.

The Christmas party can leave employees talking about the event for years to come. By following our suggestions, we hope you can avoid the legal pitfalls and host a party that they will remember for the right reasons!

No employer wants an employment tribunal claim on their hands, yet alone following what should be a fun and festive celebration. To ensure that you minimise the associated risks with all things employment law-related, please contact a member of our Employment Department. We offer an Employment Law Service to protect your business from any issues that may arise with your employees, which includes policy drafting and the provision of practical advice on handling situations such as these.

You can contact Kerry Curd, a Partner in the Employment Department, by telephone on 01626 202406 or by email at kerrycurd@wbw.co.uk. WBW has nine offices across the South West in Newton Abbot, Bovey Tracey, Torquay, Paignton, Exeter, Launceston, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.