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Tips for a stress free office Christmas party


Merry Christmas

Pauline Penbry, Employment Services Manager for First Assist, highlights the problems associated with the office Christmas party and offers advice on how to make sure the seasonal festivities go off without a hitch.

Christmas is coming and along with it come the parties, the conga, and the drunken encounters with the photocopier. This is the time of year when employers want an opportunity to thank their staff for all their hard work. However, there is a danger that employees will let their hair down a little too much and then the party season can spell disaster for all that goodwill.

The Christmas party usually involves intoxicating substances, even if this is only alcohol. This is often at the heart of any problems that arise. The fact that the employer is providing alcohol, possibly free of charge, does not give staff carte blanche to neglect responsibility for how much they drink or their resulting behaviour. Verbal and physical aggression spoils the party for everyone else and reflects badly on the company at the venue. If the substances are illegal, the employer must take appropriate action.

Everyone loves a party, but there is always an element of danger involved in combining free booze with the excesses of the Christmas period. Inhibitions are lowered and people can end up doing and saying things everyone regrets. Apart from excessive drinking and drugs, employers face the possibility of a complaint regarding harassment, which can have far-reaching consequences for all involved.

Any complaint about harassment must be taken seriously by employers. The fact is they can be held liable for the acts of their employees which amount to sexual or racial harassment which are “committed in the course of their employment” and they should expect that to include social functions organised by the company. Failure to deal with such a complaint properly could result in a claim of discrimination or even constructive dismissal.

The key to a successful party is to set out clear guidelines of unacceptable behaviour such as drug taking, excessive drunkenness, harassment or violence. Staff may take the view that as a party is outside working hours, and possibly off company premises, what they do is none of the company’s business and lies outside everyday company policy. Pre-empt any issues by outlining what is considered unacceptable behaviour before the event. Make it clear that any display of these activities will be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary procedure, which may include dismissal.

A wise employer will want to strike a balance between killing the party altogether and turning a blind eye to anything that goes on. Employers should also make it clear that staff absence will not be tolerated the morning after the night before. By putting firm, but fair procedures in place employers and employees alike will be able to wind down during the Christmas festivities without even one mention of Scrooge.

Top tips for a stress free Christmas party

  • Make sure you have sound disciplinary procedures in place at the outset.
  • Highlight to staff that the company’s disciplinary procedure still applies during social occasions.
  • Issue a clear statement before the party outlining unacceptable behaviour such as excessive drinking, taking drugs or violence.
  • Consider limiting the volume of alcohol available.
  • Always take a complaint about harassment seriously and deal with it properly.
  • Make it clear that staff are expected to be fit to attend work the next day.
  • If possible, hold the party on the eve of a non-working day.
  • Provide transport to and from the party – remind staff not to drink and drive.
  • Consider your venue carefully and avoid parties ‘at home’.
  • Follow up any incidents with an interview and, if necessary, disciplinary action.
  • Try to strike a balance between being a party pooper and turning a blind eye.
  • Have a happy Christmas!

4 Responses

  1. Tis the season to…be wary
    An employer will usually be indirectly liable for the conduct of its employees even though the Christmas party is unlikely to take place on company premises and it is unlikely to take place during office hours.

    An employment tribunal will consider whether an employee’s inappropriate conduct is “in the course of employment” and there have been occasions where an employee in a social situation, albeit with work colleagues, was held to be acting in the course of employment and as such the employer was liable.

    Employee’s inappropriate conduct might include:

    * Throwing up
    * Kissing a colleague
    * Photocopying body parts (and being caught in the process)
    * Being abusive to the boss or a colleague
    * Getting too drunk to stand

    Paul Gaff, Thomas Eggar
    [email protected]

  2. Alternative Xmas Parties
    An effective and robust alcohol and drug in the workplace policy would give everyone involved very clear and defined instructions in how to approach this subject.Also your tips had a very diciplinary and don’t let them get away it tone. Perhaps a message that includes education, prevention and awareness might be more appropriate and successful, in the long term.
    Secondly surely the encouragement of alternatives to the traditional Christmas party with alcohol would be the best solution. Go karting, bowling or even an afternoon at a health club could incorporate team building and bypass all the quite obvious problems associated with alcohol use on an organisations or company premises.

  3. Xmas head aches
    I really think with all the legislation that the employer should not get involved. Most of our clients are small to medium businesses and have adopted our advice.

    1. Don’t get involved in the staff’s arrangements for the do on any level, do let them organise it themselves off work premises.

    This has to be done so in no way can it be considered in the course of business.

    2. Celebrate Xmas in the office in some other way, time off etc.

    3. Ensure that all policies are in place before the season starts and that staff know the score if they breach the rules any time of the year.

    Some think this is Dickensian and the employer is a misery. Better to be thought a misery than for the business to be closed as the result of litigation which is uninsured or not paid out on the claim.

  4. further advice
    Inappropriate sexual remarks are clearly identified as discriminatory in the office and usually dealt with severely. However, discrimination claims can be made against companies even if the remarks were made outside of the office and outside of working hours.
    Any event considered to have taken place “in the course of employment” leaves room for employees to file a claim. This can include sexual remarks made in the pub after work or at a Christmas party. The rule of thumb for employers is that, if it’s a work-related event, they could be liable.

    Less than 10% of employers have Employment Practices Liability insurance to cover them against the cost of defending discrimination claims and many companies are not even aware that this cover exists.

    I recommend the following:

    * Implement a harassment policy setting out the kind of behaviour that constitutes ‘ harassment’ or ‘bullying’. Make it clear that these apply to all informal work gatherings, including outside official working hours, as well as to formal work-related activities.
    * Ensure relevant policies are brought to the attention of existing employees and to all new employees upon joining.
    * Train managers and employees on the policy. Make a record of those attending training and ensure all employees do so.
    *Make it clear that all inappropriate acts, both in and outside of work, will be considered gross misconduct which may lead to dismissal.
    * Issue reminders, re-running training sessions at appropriate times, such as before the Christmas party.
    * All allegations of discrimination should be investigated promptly, sensitively and fairly.

    Angela Howe, Employment Practices Underwriter at Hiscox
    [email protected]

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