Christmas parties are a great way to reward your workers at the end of a hard year – and they’ve probably deserved it.
However, there are legal implications and pitfalls that come with too much ‘Christmas cheer’ at the party – for both employers and employees.
Despite its festive atmosphere, the party is legally an extension of your work place even if it is held offsite and outside working hours.
Employers have a legal duty of care and must provide a safe environment for its workers as far as reasonable practicable. With the consumption of alcohol, the risk of acts of harassment, discrimination, assault or other unwanted conduct increases to a large degree.
Education is the key – Before the function, refresh your employees memory in regards to your policies such as ‘code of conduct’, ‘harassment’ and ‘social media use’. As well as the obvious embarrassment that can arise from bad behaviour at the end of year celebrations, employees could be putting their job on the line.
Despite your best efforts, things may still go wrong at the party. If so, DO NOT attempt to discipline employees at the party itself. Send them home if necessary and deal with the incident when you are back at any the office – AND SOBER.
Control, control, control
Be respectful of employees who, for whatever reason, do not drink. Ensure a plentiful supply of alcohol-free alternatives and lots of water. Keep an eye out too for any younger members of staff – Do not allow under-18s to drink.
All staff serving alcohol in a licenced establishment must complete the compulsory “Responsible Service of Alcohol” (RSA) training. This is of course very helpful, but it does not relieve you from your duty of care. You can control over-consumption by pre-organising drink vouchers (e.g. 3 per person) or having a designated “referee” within your team. Making plenty of food available early on may also assist.
Un-licensed Venue / Party at home
A Free-for-all / help-your-self bar will end up very messy, so don’t do this.
If possible, arrange an external person, trained in RSA to dispense drinks. This will avoid several scenarios such as workers putting pressure on another worker, designated as “bar person” to supply more alcohol, when not appropriate. Again, make plenty of food available early on.
In one recent case, two workers got drunk and had a fight after drinking excessively at a free bar supplied by their employer. Being an extension of the work place, the employer sacked them both on the spot (fighting is serious misconduct) However, they successfully argued that their resulting dismissals were unfair. A relevant factor was that the employer had provided a free bar, and therefore condoned their behaviour.
Be accommodating, not discriminatory
Remember that employees may be vegetarian or unable to eat certain foods due to religious beliefs. Ask about any special dietary requirements so that these can be accommodated
It is an offence for an employer to knowingly permit or even to ignore the use or supply of any drugs taking place on their premises or during a work function
With social media, the risk is that you have a much far broader audience if things go wrong. For example, party photos may appear on social media, displaying raunchy behaviour by someone or a group of people. Some people may think the photos are funny. But it’s not at all funny when that photo or post becomes a critical piece of evidence in a sexual harassment case…
Alcohol can make you “speak easy” so managers should avoid conversations about performance, promotion, salary or career prospects. However, a promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise – even if the employer cannot remember the conversation.
An employer may still be responsible for its employee driving home from an office party. Think about providing transport home, such as a taxi or a bus at the end of the event (or earlier). At the very least, encourage employees to think about how they will get home, provide phone numbers for taxi and suggest employees check the time of their last bus / train home.
The Morning after
If a working day follows your event, be clear about your expectations regarding absenteeism the next day. Ensure that all staff know the extent to which you will be lenient about coming to work late and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken. Be careful – a past history of tolerance, could be used as evidence that disciplinary action against an individual is unfair or even discriminatory
At the end of the day, if employers and workers take some simple precautions, the Christmas party can be a fun and trouble-free way for you and your team to celebrate a year of hard work.
If you need help with implementing policies at your workplace or a staff member to assist with drinks service at your next party, give us a call on 07 40503888 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org