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The office Christmas party season has come around once again, which for many employers presents a chance to reward their staff and celebrate the hard work put in throughout the previous calendar year.

However, Christmas parties have the potential to give employers HR headaches and so it is always a good idea to remind staff that while the festivities should be seen as a time to have fun, they are still a work event and so standards of behaviour should be maintained. In this article we share our top tips and what to look out for at an office Christmas party.

An all-inclusive approach

To ensure that all staff enjoy the Christmas party, employers need to be as inclusive as possible.  Employers should make sure that all staff are invited but inclusivity does not just extend to invitations, employers should be mindful of the following:

  • Alcohol - some employees may not drink alcohol, either through choice or for religious or health reasons, and employers should find appropriate alternatives for these members of staff.
  • The timing and location of the party – consideration should be given to employees who may need to arrange childcare to take part or may need to travel from different locations.
  • Accessibility of the venue – employers should ensure the venue is accessible for disabled employees.
  • Religious or cultural requirements - it is important to be aware of any religious and cultural requirements at the party.
  • Dietary requirements – which could be for personal, religious / cultural or health reasons.

If some of your employees don’t feel like they are being included in part of the festivities, employers may run the risk that grievances are made, or more seriously discrimination claims.

Excess alcohol

Employers should strongly consider the amount of alcohol that is offered for free at the parties. While you do want to reward staff for their hard work throughout the year and an unlimited bar can be seen as a nice way to do this, there is a continued duty of care to all staff by their employer that will extend to these events and in such cases employers can be vicariously liable for the behaviour of those employees under the influence of alcohol that has been provided by them.

We have seen many cases of sexual discrimination and harassment arising from office parties, but violence can also result from excessive alcohol.  In the case of Williams and others v Whitbread Beer Co an employer who provided an unlimited free bar at an office party was held to have unfairly dismissed three employees for their resulting abusive and violent drunken behaviour.

Vicarious liability

Employers should be aware that they can also be vicariously liable for any actions that their staff may be involved in that go beyond the work party itself. In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd there was an after party following the staff Christmas party where an argument broke out leading to a physical altercation which left Mr Bellman with serious brain damage.

The Court of Appeal ruled that this altercation took place in the course of employment and the employer was vicariously liable for the injuries which occurred. Whilst an extreme example, employers must remain mindful and perceptive and act sensibly and proportionately if issues do arise.

All reasonable steps

When it comes to the Christmas party, employers should take all reasonable steps to prevent these types of scenarios by setting the tone beforehand. This does not always require a three-hour training session to all staff on what not to do at the Christmas party but can be as simple as reminding employees that they are effectively still at work and give your guidance on what is considered as appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This can be in reference to policies that already exist or a short email round to staff with these key points.

Hangovers and absence

One last issue that employers may encounter is absenteeism of employees in the days following the Christmas party. It will be important to follow a consistent approach with regards to post-party absenteeism. Managers and staff should all be “singing from the same hymn sheet” the day after the party.

The employer should decide beforehand how lenient or not it is going to be regarding lateness or absenteeism. Again, this should be communicated to staff, so they are fully aware of the consequences of failing to attend work if the office party falls on a working night.

Need additional advice or need to speak to an expert?

If you would like to discuss HR or employment law issues that arise as a result of a Christmas party, or have another employment law matter and require specialist advice, please don’t hesitate to contact our employment law team by completing the enquiry form below.

Key Contact

Helen Watson

Helen Watson

Partner | Head of Employment Law

Helen has been Head of the Employment Team at Aaron and Partners LLP for over 16 years and is an experienced Tribunal Advocate, Accredited Mediator and Workplace Investigator. Helen is also a Chartered Director and Executive Boardroom Coach.

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