Tis the Season to Be Jolly... don’t let your staff be wallies!
Not long til the staff Christmas party now…and with that comes the danger of over-amorous colleagues; over inebriated staff; and ‘over the top’ risk of litigation if employees do not behave themselves appropriately!
Note - it does not have to be this way – your festive bash is a great way of thanking your staff for all their hard work over the last year and for bringing everyone together, and most Chrimbo antics pass without an issue. But there are key considerations any employer should take into account before cracking on with the Christmas get-together!
Who to invite?
Everyone should be invited but you should not insist that everyone attends – when the party is outside working hours, domestic responsibilities can stop people from attending. They should not be made to feel bad!
Where partners are invited to attend, you need to ensure the invitation extends to same sex and civil partners as well as opposite sex partners to avoid any form of discrimination.
Also – key point - Christmas is a Christian holiday, so do not force people to attend the Christmas party if they decline on religious grounds. But this does not mean you cannot call decorate the office with tinsel and trees – the Equality Act 2010 does not prevent you from applying traditions so as long as you are not breaching health & safety rules (please check your buildings insurance policy too!) So having fairy lights up should not cause offence on religious grounds.
Do I need to set out rules in advance?
This is critical – you need to remind staff that they need to remain professional as the party is an extension of the workplace and all policies and rules continue to apply. You want staff to have a good time, but they need to understand what is and is not acceptable; that equal opportunities and bullying & harassment policies continue to apply; and the disciplinary consequences if they breach the rules.
Staff should be aware that distasteful or offensive jokes, fighting, being drunk or under the influence of drugs, inappropriate behaviour or comments of any form will not be tolerated and could result in dismissal. This applies regardless of whether the party is held on or off a work site.
What about Secret Santa?
Again staff should not feel ‘forced’ into Secret Santa but if this is going ahead, your employees should be clear that gifts should not be offensive. Giving ‘intimate’ presents, although amusing for the buyer, could be deemed harassment by the receiver!
Is it ok if staff get a bit ‘touchy feely’?
Sexual harassment claims are one of the biggest risks to employers when the alcohol is flowing! Harmless flirting for one person could be harassment to another. As the employer, you remain liable for acts carried out by your employees – so look out for unwanted ‘mistletoe encounters’ or the employee choosing to ‘bump & grind’ on the dancefloor!
If any allegations are made during or after the event, send the employee home and deal with the incident back in the workplace when all parties are sober. Your usual disciplinary process should be used.
Having a few drinks is ok, right?
Here you have a few options…limit the drinks per person and hand out drinks vouchers to each employee – after that it’s the bartender’s decision to serve or not; or have a free bar but confirm that’s not a challenge! Excessive ‘free’ alcohol consumption leading to dismissal has been used as a key argument by employees winning unfair dismissal claims at tribunal in the past.
Make plenty of food available throughout the party but check in before the party if there are dietary restrictions (religious reasons or personal choice). Also, having some entertainment (games/disco) planned is useful so the bar is not the focal point all evening.
Remember, not everyone drinks so have lots of non-alcoholic options/water available and watch out for the younger employees – under 18s should not be drinking!
What about the managers?
Your managers need to manage themselves at the party too – making promises about promotions or salary could be deemed binding, so you to advise them to not ‘talk shop’ at the party – that is not the time or place!
What happens at the end of the night?
You have a duty of care to your staff so you need to consider the travel arrangements. Before the party, remind your staff not to drink and drive; consider if you can lay transport on for staff; or think about ending the event before local public transport stops for the night. As a minimum , you should encourage staff to think about their own arrangements home and provide numbers of local cab firms which could be booked by staff in advance.
The morning after the night before…
You need to be clear about expectations for the next day – encourage staff to book holiday in advance but be clear about the rules on this point too. Communicate what happens if your expectations are breached but don’t expect miracles from the staff who do turn up for work either!
Finally, do have fun – most people use common sense and enjoy themselves appropriately so just be sensible in the precautions you communicate and enjoy!