It’s that time of that year again – Christmas: the sound of choirs, the smell of holly and – of course – the roaming ground for the work Christmas party. Although the work Christmas party does have its upsides (networking, goodwill etc.) it can (and does) have obvious downsides – every year tales emerge in the tabloids of fighting, sexual shenanigans and general stupidity at Christmas parties that have got out of control. However, although employers arrange Christmas parties with good intentions in mind (see above) the downside can be considerable – employers have vicarious liability for anything that occurs “in the course of employment”. This includes work Christmas parties, even if they’re held outside of working hours and away from the business’ premises. We’ve therefore taken the liberty of providing a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for employers when it comes to arranging and undertaking work Christmas parties:

  1. Make sure that all policies and procedures are in place
  2. Notify employees in advance
  3. Beware Secret Santa
  4. Don’t have a free bar
  5. Hold the party on a Friday (if possible)
  6. Extend the invitation
  7. Inform senior employees not to talk about promotions, work performance, grievances or disciplinaries
  8. Be organised
  9. Deal with any subsequent grievances efficiently

Make sure that all policies and procedures are in place

Your business should (ideally) have an equality policy, grievance policy and disciplinary policy – with the aim of making clear to employees the standard of behaviour that is expected of them in the workplace and the potential consequences for contravening this.

Notify employees in advance

Write to employees at least two weeks in advance of the Christmas party and remind them of their responsibilities relating to conduct in the workplace.

Beware Secret Santa

Further, remind employees of their responsibilities relating to non-discriminatory conduct in the workplace. An overly-sexual Secret Santa present or a racially offensive Secret Santa present could form the basis for an unlawful harassment claim in the Employment Tribunal.

Don’t have a free bar

Seneca (apparently) said “drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness”. Employers certainly do not want voluntarily mad employees roaming the Christmas party – anything (quite literally) can happen. You can’t prevent employees from getting drunk but you can refrain from encouraging them to do so. Although you may be seen as “stingy” for not having a free bar your accountant may thank you when it comes to avoiding expensive legal fees.

Hold the party on a Friday (if possible)

There are two good reasons for holding the party on a Friday:

  1. A drop in productivity
  2. The employer’s duty of care

The first reason is fairly self-explanatory – employees will often turn up with a hangover or (less common but still an issue) drunk. If your employees turn up drunk to work then it may be best to send them home – they’re more than likely to more harm than good. This relates to the second reason – the employer’s duty of care towards their employees. This is a five-fold duty and the employer may contravene aspects of it if it failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent harm to its employees. Getting employees to operate potentially dangerous equipment or, for example, drive the next day may be seen to be a failure to uphold the duty of care.

Extend the invitation

If you’re making the invite a “+1” then make sure that not only spouses but girlfriends, boyfriends and civil partners can attend too.

Inform senior employees not to talk about promotions, work performance, grievances or disciplinaries

Having senior employees talk, when inebriated, about important work-related matters if obviously something that employers want to avoid. For example, if the senior employee discusses potential promotions with a colleague then this could be deemed to be a verbal contract. If there was a failure to promote later then the employee could resign and claim constructive dismissal. Further, if the senior employee was to discuss disciplinaries in the workplace then they could say something which may suggest that they’ve prejudged the outcome of a disciplinary. This could render any dismissal an unfair dismissal.

Deal with any subsequent grievances efficiently

If any employees make a complaint after the Christmas party (whatever this relates to) then make sure that their grievance is dealt with in a manner which is compatible with the ACAS code of practice.

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About Redmans Employment Team

Redmans Employment Team deal with employment matters for both employers and employees, including drafting employment contracts and policies, advising employers and employees on compromise agreements, handling day-to-day HR issues, advising on restructures, and handling Employment Tribunal cases for both employers and employees

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