In the words of Slade … It’s Chrissssssstmasssss (well very nearly).
The Christmas party is often the favourite event for employees of the year. But it can quickly turn into a Health and Safety as well as an HR nightmare for employers. Colleagues are overly touchy; they may start a bit of fisticuff’s with each other after drinking too many beers. And then just to top it off it’s on social media the day after, for all your clients to see, you know the sort of thing. So lets clear a few things up.
Are you responsible for your employees’ actions?
Even if the party takes place outside of normal working hours and outside the workplace, it continues to be considered an event linked to work. It can be assumed that, under the law, the party will be considered “in the course of the employment relationship” and as such, managers are still responsible for the behaviour of their staff. It may not seem fair, but employers can still be held responsible for any acts of discrimination, harassment or worse, committed by their employees.
What can I do to avoid liability?
Responsibility can be avoided by demonstrating that you have taken reasonable steps to prevent misbehaviour. You should do the following:
- Invite everyone to the event. Do not discriminate. Remember the event should be open to all so include those on maternity or paternity leave, part-time workers and those who share work or have a fixed-term contract. If you allow spouses or partners to participate, be sure not to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
- Consider how appropriate the venue is. Does the venue allow children under 18? Could it be somehow considered offensive to workers of certain religions or sexes? Can they meet different dietary needs? Is it easily accessible for wheelchair users?
- Remind employees of what the company considers to be unacceptable behaviour before the event. This is essential. You should send a reminder or e-mail to ALL staff. Set out your expectations and consequences if they fail. It is absolutely clear that if they behave badly, they will be investigated and disciplinary actions can be taken.
- Provide soft drinks. If you offer a free bar, consider limiting the amount of free alcohol available so as not to be considered inappropriate behaviour. Ask the bar staff to keep an eye on the employees who let themselves go. If you appear to have condoned or encouraged excessive alcohol consumption, it will be difficult to dismiss the employee if he has committed alcohol-related offences. Trying to drink the bar dry is not the objective of the event! Also, ensure those employees below the ages of 18 are not drinking.
- Name some responsible people to keep an eye on the party and provide them and all the nominated drivers with free soft drinks for the evening.
- Think about how employees will return home after the party. Consider, if the budget is extended, providing a coach to a central place at the end of the night. Encourage employees to check when the last trains or buses are ensured their safety and make sure lifts are arranged, so everyone ends the evening safely you need to account for everyone just as you would keep people safe in the workplace.
Lastly, if you have a Secret Santa event have strict rules items should not be purchased to embarrass or cause offence to people, better still swap this for an office Christmas bake-off. No mistletoe because its just asking for trouble and be mindful that Christmas can be a very difficult time of year for some people. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.