Christmas is always an exciting time of the year and throwing a Christmas party can be a great way to boost morale. It looks as though the Prime Minister will not be thwarting any party plans this year, however, there are some important considerations for employers when organising their festive celebrations:
Invitation and inclusion…….
To avoid any allegation of unlawful discrimination whether it be on the grounds of sex, disability or otherwise, make sure you invite all employees to the party including anyone who might be absent due to illness or maternity/paternity leave for example.
.……but, not compulsion
Similarly, don’t make attendance obligatory, or pressure employees into attending if they don’t feel comfortable in doing so; whether it be for reasons relating to religion, childcare or simply personal circumstances/preference. In doing so, an employer could face allegations of discrimination.
Out of site……out of mind
Employers will be responsible for their employees at events organised and funded by them, despite being outside of working hours and offsite. The fact that employers can be held liable for the acts of their employees, means that holding a Christmas party entails significant considerations for businesses.
Set expectations and emphasise policy
Prior to the party, send out a friendly but firm reminder to all employees of your expectations with respect to conduct. It is also worth emphasising that the usual company policies still apply as they would in the office.
These days, photos are easily taken and subsequently posted on social media. Ensure that your pre-party guidance refers to your social media policy and highlights the key issues which can arise as a result of posting inappropriate comments or photos online (such as causing potential damage to the reputation of the organisation and/or claims by staff members of possible bullying/harassment) and the consequences of failing to comply.
Make sure it’s not (un)happy hour
Consider limiting the amount of alcohol available at the party and whether providing free unlimited alcohol is realistically a good idea.
Where an employer provides an “open bar” and issues arise, this could both impact the way in which you can deal with any guilty party, and may also lead to the employer being held liable for the actions of any misbehaving employee.
Take into account individual religious beliefs and ensure that there are sufficient non-alcoholic drinks available and that all dietary requirements are catered for ahead of time.
As employers can be liable for the discriminatory behaviour of their staff, it is important that they are reminded about their obligations under any equal opportunities policy and that there will be zero tolerance to any form of harassment and/or bullying.
Avoid talking shop
Ensure management are briefed on avoiding discussions with staff about career prospects or remuneration. Alcohol can loosen tongues and this sort of social event is not the appropriate place for professional discussions surrounding promotion, pay rises, performance or otherwise which in certain circumstances could lead to a binding contractual obligation.
Go with the (lateral) flow
With the Omicron variant of Covid-19 becoming more prevalent as winter draws in, this year the health and safety considerations are also even more onerous than usual.
Although not very glamorous, it’s a good idea to provide employees with any Covid-19 specific guidelines for the night, such as requesting that staff refrain from too close contact and take a test prior to attending. Also use this as an opportunity to let staff know what measures you’re putting in place to keep them safe during the event.
In line with government guidance, consider the ventilation of the venue if possible. If you are using a professional venue, they should have already considered this as part of their own risk assessments and be able to advise you on what they have in place.
No driving home for Christmas
One aspect which is often overlooked, is how employees will be getting home after the party. It is always helpful to include some pre-event advice on no drinking and driving and provide phone numbers for local taxi companies. You may also want to provide some form of transport such as coaches at set times, or at least ensure that the party finishes whilst public transport is still available.
After the after party
There was a case where an employer was held liable for a serious injury suffered by one of its employees during an incident that took place after an organised Christmas party, when a few staff went on for drinks at a hotel. For this reason, it is important to ensure that you distance yourself from unofficial after-parties and make it clear beforehand that if staff decide to move on to other venues or continue after the event ends, that this is not endorsed by you as an employer.
With regards to the morning after, it is helpful to have been clear about expectations on absence prior to the party. Ensure any tolerance is applied fairly across the board, or even better – organise the party on a Friday!
And if it all goes to pot…
Ideally, with the right precautionary measures, you should be able to enjoy a stress-free Christmas party. However, if even despite your best efforts any incidents do arise on the night, ensure that they are dealt with fairly and consistently, in the same manner they would have had they arisen in the office during normal working hours.
The party itself is not the right environment to discipline staff over their behaviour, so ensure that this is dealt with once back at the office, when everyone is sober and in a better frame of mind.
Also ensure that any relevant company policies which apply are adhered to. Again, this will minimise the opportunity for unfair treatment to be claimed.
So, while we all prepare to enjoy the forthcoming festivities, just remember that taking a little bit of time to consider the above issues now, may just prevent headaches for employers later on.
If you need advice on any of the key issues detailed here, or any aspect of employment law or HR, then please contact Employment Partner, Amanda Badley, on 0116 402 9019 or email Amanda.Badley@bhwsolicitors.com.