Updated for 2021 is our 3-part Employers’ Guide to Christmas. Whilst the recent announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended employees work from home where possible, he said Christmas parties should still go ahead, stating: “On Christmas parties, we don’t want people to cancel such events. There is no Government guidance to that end.”
In this first article we focus on the office Christmas party. For many, this is the work social event of the year. A time for rewarding employees for hard work, inviting them to eat, drink and be merry. The long standing tradition of the office Christmas party is a great festive experience, however it can be an employment law minefield if things get a little out of hand. Part 1 of our Employers’ Guide to Christmas outlines the common pitfalls companies fall into when planning the annual festive jolly.
Planning the office Christmas party
This year, although Omicron variant infection rates are rising, the Prime Minister has urged companies to go ahead with their Christmas parties. However, you should consider putting measures in place to ensure your staff are in the safest environment and to safeguard against any potential outbreaks. We’d recommend you address the following points:
- Consider hosting the party outdoors
- Complete a risk assessment
- Ask that all guests have completed a lateral flow test beforehand
- Use face coverings
- Maintain social distancing
- Try to keep numbers to a minimum
After this, it may appear as simple as booking a venue and confirming numbers, however employers should give careful consideration to all aspects of the Christmas party to ensure that all employees are catered for.
Try to choose a date and time that is as inclusive as possible. Perhaps offer a few options and assess feedback before making a final decision. Don’t forget to invite staff who are on maternity/paternity/parental leave and you should also include agency workers, temporary and part-time staff.
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 and will also prohibit any employees under the age of 18 attending. Remember that not all religions celebrate Christmas so don’t put undue pressure on anyone to attend the party
Ensure that the venue is suitable for disabled employees and that staff with any dietary requirements can be catered for. As it is a work related social event employers have a duty of care to ensure that everyone can get home safely and therefore transport links should also be taken into account.
If your party is already booked it would be wise to revisit the plans to ensure that all the points above can be ticked.
Alcohol and the office Christmas Party
If you are planning to provide alcohol at the Christmas party, consider placing a limit on the amount provided to avoid staff over indulging. 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.
Be aware that as an employer you have a duty of care to ensure that an inebriated employee is taken home safely following a work event.
It is equally important to ensure that a plentiful supply of non-alcoholic beverages is available for those employees who choose not to consume alcohol for personal or religious reasons.
“Tis the season”… to be extra vigilant of the risk that social media poses to the workplace!
With the influence of social media in today’s society together with the rise in popularity of smartphones the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour at office Christmas parties making its way online is significant.
The risk from an employer’s perspective is that any 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 educating your staff on what is and isn’t acceptable and the consequences of not complying, you’re immediately limiting the risk of finding yourself in a social media crisis.
Beware of the Christmas party romance
Alcohol fuelled romance is often in the air at this time of year. Whether it lasts a night or flourishes for longer, a work relationship 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.
Unfortunately we cannot anticipate the actions of others and despite meticulous planning things still go a little bit wrong. If you find yourself having to deal with HR issues over the festive season and are in need of some help and advice, then we are just a phone call away.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us!
The Backhouse Solicitors Team
Tel: 01245 893400
Email: [email protected]