Updated for 2021 is our 3-part Employers’ Guide to Christmas.  For most, the festive season is a time for fun and jokes; but to keep the celebrations hassle free, it’s important for employers to communicate expectations among staff to prevent any potential employment law issues or HR hangovers.

Part two of our three part Employers’ Guide to Christmas discusses how employers can best manage any issues over the festive period. We will outline how to set staff standards over Christmas, with HR and policy tips around what they need to do if things don’t quite go according to plan.

Communicating your Expectations

The office Christmas party is a chance for everyone to let their hair down and forget about the stresses of work.  It can also be a great team building experience where fellow colleagues can build and strengthen bonds in a way that no weekly meeting could achieve.

Whilst the aim is for everyone to relax and have fun, the key to a hassle free evening is to also set clear boundaries.  A few inappropriate or misguided comments and gestures can bring about all sorts of HR problems.  Employment law states that employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees provided the incident took place during the course of their employment.  As an office Christmas party is considered a work related event it is essential that your employees are made aware that the usual code of conduct still applies.

If your company is hosting a staff party this year, either face to face or online, you should 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 or harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature are strictly prohibited and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action.

No-one wants to dampen the Christmas spirit, but confirming expectations ahead of the party and taking all reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate behaviour can offer you, the employer, some protection in the event that things don’t quite go according to plan.

Dealing with Disciplinary Issues….and hangovers

There will inevitably be a few employees that over-indulge on the festive booze and fail to make it to work on time (or at all) the next day.  If your party is being held on a week night you may wish to give some thought to what might happen the following day.

If your business allows, consider letting your staff start an hour or two later than normal.  If that’s not possible, ensure that everyone is aware of the consequences of failing to turn up to work as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.  A hangover is generally not an acceptable reason for sickness absence during the festive period, much as it would not be acceptable at any other time of the year.  If you consider this a disciplinary issue, explain what action will be taken.

An employer can make deductions from an employee’s pay if they turn up for work late so long as the right to make deductions for unauthorised absence is specified in their contract of employment.

Update your Policies and Procedures

Christmas is also a good time to ensure that internal disciplinary policies and procedures are up to date in the event a member of staff makes a complaint.  Grievances received following a work related social event should be treated in exactly the same way as if the incident had happened in the workplace.  As an employer it is your duty to follow up and ensure that it is investigated efficiently and fairly.  Be consistent with your approach.  Downplaying or overlooking events from a Christmas party may lead to bigger problems further down the line if similar events occur in the workplace.

Our Employers’ Guide to Christmas may leave you feeling that the office Christmas party is a daunting prospect but so long as you follow our tips and advice there is no reason why your event will not be a highly enjoyable occasion (and earn you a few brownie points with your staff).  Don’t forget that our employment law team is on hand should you require any assistance.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us!

The Backhouse Solicitors Team

Tel:         01245 893400

Email:    info@backhouse-solicitors.co.uk

Web:      www.backhouse-solicitors.co.uk