An employment lawyer’s ten tips for a successful office Christmas party
With the festive season in full swing, the employment department at Tughans has compiled its own cautionary Christmas list of issues employers should take into account when entering into the spirit of the season.
- While no-one likes organised fun, you should plan your event so that no one is left out. For example, a party on a Friday night could exclude orthodox Jewish employees or employees with childcare responsibilities; hosting a liquid lunch at your local could exclude Muslims and non-drinkers; whilst vegetarians and vegans are unlikely to enjoy a set ham-and-turkey dinner. Plan an event that all of your employees can enjoy.
- Your festive plan should also deal with getting your worse-for-wear colleagues home safely. Consider pre-booking taxis; have someone on hand to marshal staff into them before they spill onto the street and disappear into the night. If your venue is remote, or a distance from the office, consider hiring a coach. Take all precautions to prevent drink-driving.
- Keep the level of festive spirit in check before your event by making it clear to your employees that you expect a certain standard of conduct from them – and that your normal policies in relation to discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying, amongst others, will apply. You should create a specific “office party” policy.
- Even if you hold your party outside of the office and office hours, it will be a “work event” and you will be vicariously liable for any accidents or “incidents” that occur. Consider asking a handful of managers to monitor staff behaviour – and alcohol consumption – to reduce the risk of slips, trips or behaviour getting out of hand. If you’re at a bar or restaurant, try to keep your party in a separate room or area to reduce the risk of harassment from any third parties- and vice-versa. For more on this point, see our article from a Christmas past.
- Whilst alcohol has a certain value as a social lubricant, it undoubtedly increases the likelihood of accidents and misbehaviour. You shouldn’t prevent your employees from indulging (it is a party after all) but you can put sensible measures in place. For example, drinks tickets can help control individual consumption. Avoid ordering your employees rounds of shots or arranging any drinking games or forfeits. If you are providing an open bar, consider limiting it to beers, wines and single measures – the “Christmas spirit” does not mean an evening of free double vodkas.
- Firmly remind employees about their use of social media. A party is not an excuse for posts, videos or other content which damages your corporate image. Discourage content which identifies your company. Anything that does should be appropriate; warn that damaging content will be considered a disciplinary offence.
- Social media may also present the most problems with regard to inappropriate behaviour. You will not be able to prevent employees using their Snapchat, WhatsApp and other platforms during your party, or in its aftermath. If an employee informs you that they have received lewd, harassing or otherwise problematic messages, images or other content, you may need to initiate your grievance process.
- Don’t talk about work. Managers especially should be careful not to be loose-lipped about any confidential information about bonus details, promotions or appraisals.
- If your workplace is open the next day, you should expect your staff to turn up. Make it clear that non-attendance is a potential disciplinary offence. If you have the contractual right, you can make a deduction from wages from an employee who decides to take the morning off.
- If your employees are required to operate machinery, drive or take part in other manual or potentially dangerous work, make sure they are safe to do so. You have a legal duty to provide a safe place and system of work – for the employee and others. Again, you should do everything possible to prevent drink-driving.
These ten guidelines should help ensure that the hangover from your office party can be cured without a trip to the Industrial Tribunal. If you require legal advice in relation to any of the issues mentioned above, please get in touch.
While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.