Employers are increasingly concerned about the perceived minefield of legal pitfalls when holding office Christmas parties. However, this should not put off employers from hosting them as pitfalls can in many cases be avoided through pre-planning and careful consideration of your employee’s needs. Here are the main things we suggest that employers consider:
An extension of the working environment
When planning a party, all employers should consider that all events hosted by themselves are legally considered an extension of the working environment and the same employer and employee duties apply, even when out of office hours.
All employees should be invited, this includes anyone on maternity or paternity leave and even on sick leave where appropriate. People of other faiths should not be forgotten about as it is likely they will wish to attend for the social side and it is still an end of year treat for them.
When choosing the venue, an employer should ensure that it is accessible to all employees. 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 any offence to anyone. For example, a strip club may be desirable to some employees but will not appeal to all!
This is the big one. If alcohol is available, you may be able to stop your employees from drinking too much but there are forms of “damage limitation” to be considered. It is a good idea to send out a polite email beforehand reminding employees that the party is a work-related event so there is still a certain level or professionalism to be expected from them, especially if there is going to be a free bar or free drinks with a meal. If employers are going to supply free drinks, they should also ensure there are soft drinks available for non-drinkers and keep an eye out for any underage employees.
Employers are still responsible for any unacceptable behaviour from their employees toward one another and as mentioned earlier, third parties. This means sexual harassment and anything that could be classed as rude or bullying. You may therefore consider providing written guidance to all employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events and the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaches of the rules.
Discussions to be avoided
Management should also take care not discuss any employee performance or remuneration at events outside of work. This is inappropriate and can lead to disputes over what was or was not said.
The run up to the Christmas party provides a perfect time to review your social media policies as nobody wants inappropriate and undesirable pictures of staff or management available for all to see on social media.
Post Party Absenteeism
If employees have to work the day after the party, they should be reminded what is expected of them in terms of start times and workload. A consistent approach to disciplinary action for unacceptable absenteeism should also be taken but it is also worth remembering that people do genuinely get ill at this time of year too.
The Christmas party can leave employees talking about the event for years to come. By following our suggestions we hope that you can avoid legal pitfalls and host a party that your employees will remember for the right reasons!
Please contact our Employment Team if you would like further advice related to this or any other employment law issues.
DISCLAIMER: This note reflects the law at the date of publication which is 3rd December 2015. The content of this note is for general information only. Nothing in this note constitutes legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.