Employment Focus | The Office Christmas party…


It’s that time of year again, when the Christmas party season is well under way, bringing with it the notorious office Christmas party.

Without wanting to put a downer on the all-important Christmas spirit that comes with this time of year, employers need to be mindful of the potential employment law issues that can arise when spirits are particularly high…! In order to assist we have set out some things for employers to consider during the Christmas social season –

Inclusion

Ensure that all of your staff are invited to social events, including any fixed term, part time or agency staff. In addition, be careful not to forget those who may be away from the office on various types of family leave or who are absent due to long term sickness. Just because someone is medically unfit to carry out their role does not necessarily mean they are unable to to attend a social event.

On the flipside it is important not to make attendance compulsory or pressurise staff to attend the Christmas party in any way. Some staff may not want to attend on religious grounds and others may be prevented from doing so due to childcare commitments. Employers should also not assume that staff members will not want to attend for specific reasons; everyone should be given the choice.

If you have any staff who are disabled ensure that any venue chosen for an event is fully accessible for them.

Reminding staff of appropriate behaviour

Large consumptions of alcohol and Christmas spirits can affect standards of conduct and lead to inappropriate behaviour. There is nothing wrong with employers sending a gentle reminder to staff of the standards of behaviour they expect of them, and what will be considered inappropriate.

Alcohol can also fuel sexual advances that could constitute harassment. It might therefore be useful to remind staff of policies concerning discrimination, and bullying and harassment. Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment means any unwanted behaviour that has the purpose or effect of making someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended, and can be a single incident. It is not necessarily always obvious or apparent to others, and can easily happen without employers being aware of it.

Staff should be reminded that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace, even if it is not held in the office, and that normal discipline will still therefore apply. Employers should also be mindful that they can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, and depending on the facts, post-Christmas party drinks may not be outside of the scope of employment for these purposes. As a result it might be prudent for employers to remind staff that any after party drinks are not an organised work event.

If any complaints do arise after the event, these should then be investigated swiftly in the usual way.

Social media

There is always the Christmas party gossip that follows the event and this is where the use of social media can very easily end up causing problems. Moments can be caught and shared and, before the night is over, Facebook and Twitter may already be full of content that will only cause a headache for employers.

If employers have social medial policies in place it would be timely to remind staff of these and the dangers that social media can pose. Employees should be reminded that they need to think of their own personal and professional reputation, as well as that of their employer, especially if there is anything linking them to their employer on their personal social media pages.

Alcohol

The Christmas party is often an alcohol fuelled affair but employers should be mindful that some staff may not be drinking alcohol for a number of reasons. It is therefore important that there are always plenty of non-alcoholic options available. Employers should also be mindful of any staff under the age of 18.

It is also a good option to ensure that there is always a good variety of food and soft drinks available in order to help limit excessive drinking. Ending events prior to public transport services ending for the day can also help reduce the risk of staff drinking and driving.

Health and safety

Don’t forget health and safety considerations, especially where a party is being held in your offices. An assessment of the potential risks will need to be carried out, and steps taken to protect against any potential hazards. Employers should appoint an appropriate person to oversee health and safety during a Christmas party, who can ensure things run as planned, is a point of contact for staff and has the necessary authority to take action if required.

Absences, sickness and tardiness

If the day after the Christmas party is a normal working day there is always the potential for the classic ‘sickie’ to be pulled for those who may have over-indulged… Employers can again remind staff that any unauthorised absence may result in disciplinary action. If staff don’t turn up for work and, following investigation, there is no satisfactory explanation for their absence, this can be treated as unauthorised absence in the usual way and dealt with under employers’ disciplinary procedures. However, as always, an investigation will still be required to ensure that staff who are genuinely ill are not penalised.

In addition, if staff attend for work late without good explanation, employers may have the ability to deduct wages if they have the right to do so in their employment contracts.

One way to avoid any issue, where normal working hours are Monday to Friday, is simply to arrange a party to take place on a Friday.

Whilst taking all of the above into account, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the purpose of the Christmas party is to have fun. We are in no way trying to make the Christmas party a dull and boring affair; we simply want to make employers aware of what steps can be taken to try and ensure everyone enjoys the evening for what it is. On that note, have a good one, don’t do anything we wouldn’t do and we will see you in the New Year!

If you have any questions in connection with the content of this article or employment law in general please contact Catherine Hope at catherine.hope@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 3801 or another member of the employment team on 0191 226 7809.


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