The Office Christmas Party

Most of us look forward to the office festive jolly up, but employers can face all sorts of seasonal HR challenges at this time of year.  This two-part guide helps you to set some ground rules and communicate expectations to staff to lay the way for a smooth and enjoyable party without the worry of an incident leading to an HR headache!

In this part one, we outline the common pitfalls companies fall into when planning the Christmas party.  It should be a time for rewarding employees for hard work over the year and a chance for everyone to let their hair down and enjoy themselves.  The key to a hassle-free evening is to set clear boundaries in advance.  Inappropriate or misguided comments, gestures or actions can bring about all sorts of HR problems and an employment law hangover to deal with the next day.

Planning the office Christmas party

Planning the event may seem as simple as booking a venue and confirming numbers, however, employers should consider all aspects of the Christmas party to ensure that all employees are catered for.

  • Be mindful of the various religious beliefs when choosing a location for the event.  For example, pubs and bars may deter Muslim employees from attending due to their association with alcohol.
  • Remember that not all religions celebrate Christmas so don’t put undue pressure on anyone to attend the party.
  • Will the venue prohibit any employees under the age of 18 from attending?  If it does, then you will automatically exclude any staff that are under 18 years old.
  • Ensure that the venue is suitable for disabled employees and that staff with any dietary requirements can be catered for.
  • Don’t forget to invite staff who are on maternity/paternity/parental leave.  You should also include agency workers, temporary and part-time staff.

If your party is already booked, it would be wise to check your plans to make sure that all the points above can be ticked off.

The office party is considered a work-related social event, so employers have a duty of care to ensure that everyone can get home safely.  Consider transport links and if there is industrial action, be prepared to make alternative arrangements.

Alcohol and the Office Christmas Party

It is certainly not unusual for staff to overindulge when it comes to alcohol at the office party, so you may want to consider placing a limit on the amount provided.  Experience has shown that a combination of excessive alcohol consumption coupled with relaxed inhibitions can lead to a whole host of HR nightmares.  Think about designating a member(s) of managerial staff to supervise the evening’s events and act as necessary to diffuse any potential problems.

It is equally important to cater for those employees who choose not to consume alcohol for personal or religious reasons by supplying non-alcoholic drinks as well.

Social Media – watch out

“Tis the season”… to be extra vigilant of the risk that social media poses to the workplace!

The likelihood of inappropriate behaviour at office Christmas parties making its way online is significant, and if it does an HR issue could follow.  Any inappropriate information or photos posted on social media networks may be regarded as discrimination or bullying and could potentially even damage the company’s reputation.

It’s good practice to remind employees prior to the Christmas party that normal company policies and procedures that apply at work also extend to work related events.  By explaining to your staff what is and isn’t acceptable to post or share and the consequences of not complying, you’re helping to limit the risk of finding yourself managing a social media crisis.

Beware of the Christmas party romance

Alcohol-fuelled romance is a perennial hazard of Christmas parties.  Whether it lasts a night or flourishes for longer, a relationship in the workplace can have a big impact in the office, particularly if it involves a manager and a direct report.  Be clear on your stance on office relationships.  If you require them to be disclosed, make that known and take action if necessary.

If your company is hosting a staff party this year, and you don’t already have one, consider drafting and circulating a Social Events Policy which clearly states behaviour that is both acceptable and unacceptable and the consequences of breaking the rules.  Make it clear that any drunken and/or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse, harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature are strictly prohibited and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action.

Where to find help if your Christmas party goes wrong

Sometimes, despite meticulous planning and clear communication of the expected behaviour, things still go a little bit wrong at the office party.  If you find yourself having to deal with HR issues over the festive season, our expert employment solicitors are here to help.  Simply contact us using the details below and we will guide you through to the best possible outcome.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very restful New Year!

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