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June’s Employment Law Digest – To soirée or not to soirée this summer?

As we start to enjoy the lighter nights, plans for summer work parties will be taking shape. Now life is "back to normal", summer work parties are a great way to reward employees and celebrate achievements, away from the office.

Whilst no one wants to be the “fun police”, consideration does need to be given to the challenges of hosting such events, with measures being put in place to ensure such challenges don’t overshadow the benefits of a summer soiree.

Follow our 5 top tips below to help manage avoidable risks whilst ensuring fun is had by all.

  1. Choose your location wisely

One of the biggest considerations when planning an event is choosing the “perfect” location, and you can easily get swept away with mood boards, themes and everything in between. What you can’t lose sight of however, is the need for a venue 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 possibly claims of discrimination.

  1. Midweek hangovers or weekend recovery?

When selecting your venue, you will also need to consider the date of your summer gathering. Be alive to the fact that if the party is scheduled on a weekday evening, it significantly increases the risk of employees calling in sick the next day, or worse, attending work whilst under the influence. Holding a soiree during the day, or over the weekend reduces this risk considerably.

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  1. Avoid logistical nightmares

Holding your summer party in a quaint country manor or quad biking off the beaten track might seem like a great idea but can often create logistical difficulties for employees. Consider how are your employees going to get there and more importantly, how are they going to get home? Where appropriate consider whether it is possible to arrange transport to and from designated locations, or arrange discounted accommodation. Don’t forget, your duty of care to your employees extends to work functions, so it’s important to build such considerations into your event risk assessment.

  1. Get your guestlist right

Sounds easy, but this is often where headaches start to begin. The starting point for your guestlist is to invite everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of making assumptions that Katie in Accounts won’t be interested in attending as she is on maternity leave, or that Joe from Marketing will be too ill to attend. By inviting everyone, you are reducing the risk of employees feeling “forgotten about” or devalued, or in the worst of circumstances, feeling left with little option to bring claims for discrimination or constructive unfair dismissal.

  1. Don’t go (too) crazy

Whilst you want your employees to enjoy themselves and let their hair down, it is key to remind staff about appropriate standards of behaviour, in advance. As employers, you have a duty of care towards your employees which extends to work related events, and indeed, employers can be held to be vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees at such events.

Circulating additional copies of key company polices, including those in respect of drugs & alcohol, social media, bullying & harassment and discrimination, to staff in advance, will serve as a helpful reminder of expected standards of behaviour and encourage employees to exercise good judgment.

Where alcohol is going to be available at your summer do, consider holding an informal staff briefing or sending out a memo prior to the event to remind employees that being under the influence is not an excuse for inappropriate behaviour.  No one wants to be faced with the prospect of investigating allegations of sexual harassment, aggressive behaviour or the like, post event and employees need to be fully aware that such behaviours could leave them liable to disciplinary sanctions of up to and including summary dismissal.

As with all company events, preparation is going to be key. By having a clear plan for the event and ensuring that the above factors are taken into account, you should have an event that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

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