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November’s Employment Law Digest – Easing the headache of Christmas parties

As you start to dust off the Christmas decorations and excitement for the festive season builds, conversations in the office turn to the plans for the office Christmas party.

Who is going, what is everyone wearing, who is front runner to embarrass themselves?

Whilst there is a buzz around the place, with staff excited to see what is in store, if you are responsible for HR in your organisation, your mind starts to wonder what dilemmas you are going to be faced with. Don’t panic! Here are some festive tips to manage common Christmas party related issues and to help avoid a HR Christmas party hangover…

  • Pick the perfect venue. Secure a location that is accessible to all. If your chosen venue makes attendance difficult for a particular group of employees, undertake a thorough risk assessment, in conjunction with the venue, to establish whether measures can be put in place to remove and/ or reduce such hurdles. Where effective measures can’t be put in place, consider whether this is really the right venue for you. A failure to properly consider accessibility may lead to employee complaints and/ or claims of discrimination.
  • Choose a workable party date. Be alive to the fact that a mid-week Christmas party significantly increases the risk of employees calling in sick the next day, or worse, attending work whilst under the influence. Consider holding your party during the working day, on a Friday night or over the weekend to reduce the risk considerably. Note that where the event is held during the working day, for example as an extended festive lunch with an expectation of a return to work, set clear parameters around the consumption of alcohol.
  • Be inclusive. The starting point for your Christmas party guestlist is to invite everyone within the organisation, including those on family related leave, such as maternity or adoption leave, as well as those on sick or bereavement leave. Don’t make assumptions that certain clusters of your workforce won’t want, or be able, to attend.
  • Christmas isn’t for everyone. For many different reasons, some employees may not celebrate Christmas. Whatever the reason, employees should not be pressured in to attending the Christmas party, nor should they be made to feel uncomfortable if they choose not to.

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  • Avoid logistical nightmares. Consider how are your employees going to get to the venue and more importantly, how are they going to get home? Your duty of care to your employees extends to work functions so it’s important to build such considerations into your event risk assessment. Perhaps you could arrange transport to/from designated locations or arrange discounted accommodation?
  • It’s not all about the wine. Whilst alcohol tends to be a focal point of Christmas parties, it’s not for everyone. There are many reasons why an individual may not drink and it’s important to ensure that everyone is catered for, so as to avoid certain groups feeling excluded. Consider placing caps on a free bar, have a wide range of non-alcoholic refreshments and provide an inclusive range of food/snacks where possible.
  • Don’t get yourself into a fizz. Whilst you don’t want to be “the Grinch that stole Christmas”, there is a balance to be struck so as to reduce the risk of discrimination and harassment claims arising, particularly where alcohol is in the mix. It is important to remind staff about appropriate standards of behaviour, so that everyone is able to let their hair down and have a good time, in a safe environment. Remember, you have a duty of care towards your employees which extends to work related events, and you can be held to be vicariously liable for your employees conduct. A gentle reminder that any misconduct may result in disciplinary action, or potentially dismissal depending on the severity of the conduct, should encourage employees to exercise good judgment.
  • Don’t turn a blind eye. If you see any inappropriate behaviour at the party or receive complaints after the event, you should deal with these appropriately. You should take such allegations seriously and carry out thorough investigations, implementing disciplinary processes, where required. Failure to properly deal with such complaints can have negative consequences for your organisation, ranging from constructive unfair dismissal and/ or discrimination claims to financial penalties and reputational damage.

Whilst it feels as though there are a number of pitfalls to hosting a Christmas party, by taking the above factors into account, you should minimise the risk of an unexpected Christmas present, and have an event that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

Merry Christmas from the Employment Team at Ward Hadaway!

If you have any queries on managing the risks associated with Christmas parties or for more information on how we can support you, please get in touch with Charlotte Nuttall one of our expert Employment Lawyers.