Employment Focus | The return of the Christmas party…a refresher for employers


For many employers, this is the first Christmas where staff Christmas parties are taking place again since 2019. Whilst it’s good to be able to be back together, and these are great occasions and opportunities to celebrate and thank staff for their contributions, it remains important for employers to be mindful of the potential employment law issues that can arise from them. As is our usual custom, we set out some considerations for employers over the coming month.

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 working from home, or away from the office on various types of family leave or long term sickness. Just because someone is medically unfit to carry out their role does not necessarily mean they are unable to attend a social event.

On the flipside it is important not to make attendance compulsory or pressurise staff to attend in any way. Some staff may not want to attend on religious or health grounds, and others may be prevented from doing so due to childcare commitments. Others may still feel uncomfortable attending large social events because of Covid and their own personal circumstances. 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, and make sure you are catering for staff who do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods.

Reminder of appropriate behaviour

A large consumption 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 expected standards of behaviour 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.

It is important to note 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 often gossip following 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 could cause a headache.

If employers have social media policies in place, it would be timely to remind staff of these. 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 parties can be alcohol fuelled affairs 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 wide 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…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 would be to try and arrange a party to take place ahead of a non-working day if possible, although it is important to be mindful of the times of days of religious observance such as the Sabbath.

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 just 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, enjoy the festivities 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 by clicking here.


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