Whether it is something that you look forward to or something that you dread, it is clear that the Christmas party can be more perilous for employers than it would first appear. At best it can be a celebratory event that all enjoy but at worst it can throw up a host of difficult employment law issues for employers.
Who should be invited?
It is important that all staff are invited to the Christmas party in order that accusations of discrimination cannot be made against the employer. Those members of staff who are on maternity, paternity leave or other family related leave and sickness leave should not be forgotten just because they are currently away from the workplace. This could raise issues related to discrimination and in any event the Christmas party can be a good opportunity for colleagues who are not actively in the workplace to catch up with other colleagues.
Are you at work?
Even if the work Christmas party is at a venue that is not related to work or is at different premises, it is best practice to think of the Christmas party and its venue as an extension of the workplace where normal employment law workplace rules apply. The most common employment issues that are raised at Christmas parties relate to:
- Conduct issues and gross misconduct, so for example, if there is a fight or company property has been damaged;
- sexual harassment if unwanted advances are made; and
- other discrimination issues if, for example, there has been discriminatory remarks or behaviour.
If these or other issues occur then the matter will need to be dealt with appropriately and potentially disciplinary action taken.
Alternatives to the traditional Christmas Party
Some employers have decided to take a different approach to the traditional Christmas party. This could involve holding team building days which could be both fun yet alcohol free. Another alternative is that the employer might decide to hold a Christmas lunch thus meaning the consumption of alcohol would be limited as staff realise that they have to return to work afterwards.
It is important that whatever route the employer takes they should try to ensure that the Christmas celebration is inclusive and therefore it should include non-alcoholic drinks and foods that will cater for all.
Employers should consider putting measures in place to ensure that staff are able to get home safely. This applies to all members of staff but particularly those who are particularly vulnerable or have indulged in too much alcohol. Measures that can be put in place include:
- Providing transport for staff such as a coach and making various drop offs; and
- providing a chaperone system, whereby some staff elect to stay sober in order that they can deal with any incidents that may arise and assist staff with the journey home.
Policies or pre-party memo
It can be helpful to have a policy dealing with social events such as the Christmas party and indeed this is a growing trend with some firms, alternately it may be useful to send a pre-party memo. The memo should remind staff of the behaviour expected and of certain policies that the employer has in place such as those relating to discrimination and conduct. It may also be wise to try and limit the scope of the Christmas party by informing staff of the start and end time of the party and that any other venues attended will not be deemed to be part of the employer’s Christmas party (although ultimately this would be a matter for the tribunal to decide). The memo could also include a reminder to staff that if the party is on a week night there will still be expectations about staff attending work the following day.
Hopefully if you follow these guidelines then the work Christmas party will be an event that can be enjoyed by all.
Emma Monk is an Associate Solicitor in our Employment team and is able to assist employers and employees with any employment law and HR issues that they might have. Call Emma on 0121 312 5178 or email email@example.com