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Kate Palmer


HR Advice and Consultancy Director

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What HR needs to consider when organising work Christmas parties

Did you know that corporate events – such as a Christmas party – are considered an extension of the workplace?

Although the Christmas party is held outside of the traditional working hours the employer is still responsible for the wellbeing of their employees as much as reasonably possible.

An end-of-year, or Christmas, party is a great time for everyone to let their hair down and celebrate the successes and milestones celebrated over the year, whether these are personal achievements or collective ones. And hosting a workplace event is a great way for employers to show appreciation to their staff. 

It’s important, therefore, that this is an inclusive event that everyone can attend and enjoy, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs or personal choices. 

Beware the booze

The Christmas party can be regarded by many as a boozy affair, with many looking to let their hair down and celebrate with a few drinks. But not everyone feels this way, and those employees who choose not to drink for whatever reason can often be excluded or uncomfortable if everyone else is three sheets to the wind. 

A recent YouGov survey found that 53% of employees said they would like there to be less pressure on them to drink alcohol at work events

Employees who choose not to drink should not feel pressured by their peers. When reminding employees about appropriate behaviours at the Christmas party, remember to include a point about respecting their colleagues’ choices.

Gone are the days of “oh let’s have one more for the road” or “just a little one won’t hurt”. Pressuring people to drink or making fun of those who don’t could be seen as bullying or harassment, and there’s no place for that in any workplace or at any work event. 

If you are providing alcohol, it is up to you to ensure people consume it responsibly.

To that extent, try not to base your party around alcohol consumption. Ensure that your event caters to everyone, with non-alcoholic options provided for those who do not drink alcohol. Failure to do this means you run the risk of discrimination.

If people do choose to drink, then make sure that nobody is driving drunk. Have a responsible person to ensure anyone who’s drunk too much can get home safely. Anyone who is planning on imbibing should remember that coming to work the next day hungover will not be appropriate.

Try to arrange the party on an evening when employees don’t have to work the next day, so everyone feels able to enjoy the event whether they’re drinking or not.

And remember, if you are providing alcohol, it is up to you to ensure people consume it responsibly. You could be held liable if anything happens to someone under the influence due to alcohol you have provided.

Consider other religious holidays

While Christmas is the biggest holiday celebrated in the UK, not everyone celebrates in the same way. The country, and the workplace, is made up of people of different cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds; some who celebrate Christmas and some who don’t.

Don’t force Christmas rituals and activities on any employees who do not observe the holiday or choose not to participate. Look to make language around the party inclusive, so employees of different religious beliefs are able to attend.

Religion is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so all religious beliefs need to be considered equally. Putting one religion above another could be seen as discriminatory. 

Ensure that employees whose diets reflect their religious beliefs are also able to enjoy the food and celebration.

There are other religious holidays celebrated over the festive period, including Hanukkah and Kwanza. Make sure that you don’t schedule your Christmas party on the date of another religious festival to allow everyone to attend if they wish. 

All religions and cultures have their own traditions and ways of celebrating; encourage employees to share these with the team.

Diverse food choices

Be aware when planning festive decorations or foods that everyone is catered for. Ensure that employees whose diets reflect their religious beliefs are also able to enjoy the food and celebrations alongside everyone else. All dietary choices should be catered for as much as possible, with vegan and vegetarian options offered.

Accessibility matters 

Alongside inclusivity, employers also need to ensure that the Christmas party is accessible to all. Consider how employees with different levels of physical capability will access your venue. Are there lifts available or toilets on the same level? 

Loud music and flashing lights can be a problem for people with autism, and dangerous for those with epilepsy. Most parties will have some kind of entertainment, such as a band or DJ, so consider what risks this may bring. Communicate to employees what the party will consist of so everyone can make an informed decision on whether to attend. 

Make sure that everyone knows what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour.

Don’t overlook your remote workers 

Make sure that remote workers are included in your end-of-year celebrations. Consider travel costs or accommodation and see if you’re able to help support remote or field-based employees by arranging this for them. 

Alternatively, a remote Christmas celebration could be held via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. As we saw during Covid, you can still get creative by having remote get-togethers, with festive activities such as a quiz or karaoke among the options available.

Problematic party behaviour

One big risk that comes up every year is inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party. Some employees can blur the lines between professional and personal relationships, and we’ve all heard stories about people kissing someone they shouldn’t at work events. But returning to work after an event like this can be awkward for both parties and, worse, could involve allegations of sexual harassment that an employer will have to deal with.

Make sure that everyone knows what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour and that all allegations of sexual harassment will be taken very seriously and dealt with in line with your disciplinary process.

Of course, no employer wants to be a Grinch and often love does blossom at work. 

It’s good practice to have a relationship policy in place, setting out the requirements around notifying the employer of any relationship between employees and ensuring that all protections are in place for both parties. 

Going on socials about the social

Finally, be aware of what gets posted on social media. These days everyone wants to share their life online, but inappropriate posts can prove disastrous reputationally. Remind employees of your social media policy. 


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Author Profile Picture
Kate Palmer

HR Advice and Consultancy Director

Read more from Kate Palmer

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