Preventing the Office Christmas Party from Turning into an Employment Law Nightmare

The run up to Christmas can be a stressful time for business owners, particularly when it comes to dealing with employee matters. With potential issues to contend with including staff holidays, the increased propensity for sickness absence, how or whether to reward staff with a gift or a bonus, and trying to strike the balance between getting the work done yet letting staff relax into the season, the arrival of Christmas Day can be a welcome relief!

One of the potential areas that causes employers most concern is the annual Christmas party.  Many companies still choose to organise a staff Christmas party; an event that is intended to thank staff for their contribution and hard work over the year and can simultaneously go a long way to help teambuilding and staff morale. However, without taking certain precautions, a combination of high spirits and alcohol can turn the staff Christmas party into a disaster for employers.

So how can you stop a celebration turning into employment law calamity? Here are some top tips…

Plan, plan and plan some more

Firstly, be sure to take plenty of time to organise the event well in advance. Consider a venue and plans that are inclusive for all. Bear in mind that not all staff will celebrate Christmas in the same way, particularly in terms of religious beliefs, so aim for something that is inclusive for all.

Although you will want to provide an enjoyable time for your staff, and also enjoy the party yourself, caution needs to be exercised, especially where alcohol is involved. If you are paying for drinks, you should consider limiting this up until a certain point in the evening. You will also want to ensure that plenty of food is provided. If you have a particularly large workforce, you might also consider having one of the business owners or Directors restrict their alcohol consumption to oversee events and deal with any issues that arise.

Try to think of every eventuality including transport, especially taking steps to ensure everyone gets home safely.

Keep your policies in check

Both in the run up to Christmas and throughout the year, having robust harassment, bullying and equal opportunities policies in place is advisable, and in this day and age, a social media policy is also important.  It doesn’t take much imagination to think about the potential fallout from embarrassing party photos being posted on Facebook!

As well as having a duty of care to employees at work-related events that take place externally, employers can potentially be found liable for the actions of their employees. So taking the precaution of having such policies in place can go a long way to protect your position should you face a claim.

Communication is key

On the day of the Christmas party, you might consider sending a well-drafted communication to your staff. This might include a reminder that they will still representing the company whilst at the party, perhaps also outlining what is and isn’t considered acceptable behaviour and what the consequences employees might face should they fall foul of expectations.

Deal with any issues promptly and fairhandedly

If any issues do arise during the course of the party, or indeed afterwards, be sure to take swift action. Listen to the accounts of all the people involved and be sure to act in a fairhanded manner if any disciplinary action does need to be taken, following your company’s disciplinary procedures as set out in your employee handbook.

The majority of employees will take the Christmas party in the spirit it is meant, and thankfully, behaviour getting out of hand is the exception rather than the rule. With careful planning and thought from business owners, the Christmas party can be an enjoyable occasion for all involved.

At O’Donnell Solicitors our Employment Law team can advise employers on policies and procedures and act on behalf of both employers and employees in relation to all employment law matters. If you require advice, please contact James O’Donnell ([email protected]) or Suzzanne Gardener ([email protected]).