The Christmas Party survival guideNovember 27, 2017 4:24pm All News Stories Employment Law News
The Christmas party is often employees’ favourite event of the year. But it can quickly turn into an HR nightmare for employers.
Colleagues being overly touchy-feely, fisticuffs after a few too many. And then it’s there for the whole world to see on social media the next day.
You know the sort of thing.
Am I liable for my employees’ action?
Even if the party takes place outside normal working hours away from the workplace, it still counts as a work-related event. You can assume that, in the eyes of the law, the party will be considered ‘in the course of employment’ and as such, managers are still responsible for their staff’s behaviour. It might not seem fair, but employers can be held liable for any acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation carried out by their employees.
What can I do to avoid liability?
You can avoid liability by showing that you have taken reasonable steps to prevent misconduct occurring. You should do the following:
- Invite everyone to the event. Don’t discriminate. Remember to include those on maternity or paternity leave, part-time workers and those who job share or are on a fixed-term contract. If you’re allowing spouses or partners to attend, make sure you don’t discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
- Consider how appropriate the venue is. Does the venue allow under 18s? Could it in any way be seen as offensive for workers of certain religions or sexes? Can they cater for different dietary requirements? Is it easily accessible for wheelchair users?
- Remind employees of what you consider to be unacceptable behaviour before the event. This is essential. You should send a memo or email to ALL staff outlining your expectations and the consequences if they fall short. Make it absolutely clear that if they do behave badly, it’ll be investigated and disciplinary action may be taken.
- Provide non-alcoholic drinks. If you’re offering a free bar, consider restricting the amount of free alcohol available so that you aren’t seen to be endorsing bad behaviour. Get the bar staff to keep an eye on employees who are over-indulging. If it appears you have condoned or encouraged over-consumption of alcohol, it will be difficult to fairly dismiss the employee if they have committed alcohol-related offences.
- Nominate some responsible people to keep an eye out at the party.
- Think about how employees will get home after the party. Consider, if the budget will stretch, providing a coach to a central place at the end of the night. Encourage employees to check when last trains or buses are running and give them phone numbers for registered taxi companies.
- Make it clear you expect them to turn up on time the next morning. If you have your party during the week, explain that they may face disciplinary action if they don’t attend work the next day because they overdid it.
There are some things you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t force people to come to the party. Some will have family commitments, or maybe it’s just not their kind of thing for religious, cultural or personal reasons.
- Don’t make drunken promises at the party. Managers shouldn’t talk to staff about pay increases or promotions. It will come back to haunt you.
- Don’t promote excessive drinking. For example, don’t encourage any drinking games.
- Don’t let Secret Santa cause headaches. Remind your employees to refrain from buying inappropriate, insensitive or embarrassing gifts!
Finally – do try and have fun!
If you do have any concerns in the run up to your event – or after – then seek legal advice.
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