One of the many upsides of employment law is that we get to hear all the completely unbelievable things people actually do get up to out there in the great British workplace. Never is that truer than during the Christmas Party season.
My own favourite was the one about the guy who broke into the Christmas party venue at five in the morning, still in his dinner jacket to try to recover the giant frozen turkey he’d left in there. No doubt it all made sense at the time …
The fall-out from December’s collective frenzy of ill-judged shenanigans even brings a touch of colour to the employment law reports, with regular appearances from cases which start at the Christmas party and end up in a punch-up or other form of misconduct.
With sexual harassment very much on the radar, it’s more important than ever to think carefully about your Christmas party and take steps to avoid a morning-after headache of the employee relations variety.
Our top tips to help ensure a trouble-free party season are below, and if you’d like any advice on a specific issue (whether before or after your party) then do give us a call.
We hope you’ll find our pointers useful, and that they might act as a handy reminder on one or two points that might otherwise slip through the net. That said, we know that most clients will have this in hand and that you’ll probably see plenty of emails and updates offering similar advice.
What’s your story?
We’d love to hear your funny Christmas party stories too! Email a few lines to Joanne Sefton and the contributor of the festive tale our team likes best will win a festive bottle of fizz!
Feel free to change the details to protect the innocent, and of course we won’t share any without seeking your permission first.
Top Tips for Office Parties
- Gently remind employees that a works party is an extension of the workplace and the usual rules and policies apply. Ideally, remind them that they are representing the business and this applies both to how they deal with colleagues, but also third parties (waiters, bar staff, entertainers etc.);
- Consider referring to work parties expressly in equal opportunity and harassment policies and training, or even have a separate policy to deal with behaviour at work-related social events. If an employer can show it took reasonable steps to prevent negative behaviour this may help in defending a future claim;
- If possible, avoid allowing excessive consumption of alcohol as this is what often leads to problems – limit the provision of free alcohol, provide tasty soft drink alternatives and end the party at a sensible hour;
- Do have a clear and pre-determined end time to the party, ensure (where possible) that staff leave the venue at that time and discourage senior staff in particular from continuing celebrations at any informal ‘after party’;
- When booking entertainment make sure it is suitable – employers have been held liable for sexist remarks made by entertainers at work events;
- Make sure the event is accessible to all employees, for example, ensure that disabled employees can access the location, or that the timing does not disproportionately disadvantage people with childcare responsibilities;
- Consider any religious implications. For example, Jewish employees may not be able to attend on a Friday evening, Sunday mornings may be difficult for Christian employees, and parties during certain religious festivals could be avoided if any employees are likely to be fasting during this time. In addition, ensure that menus cater for different religious needs as some employees may be unable to eat certain foods or drink alcohol;
- Consider clearing your diary a day or two after. If one or more of your employees does take things too far, any problems are best dealt with quickly rather than being allowed to fester. Where appropriate, a prompt and sincere apology can go a long way. It is also a lot less work than would be involved in a New Year grievance on the matter!