Tips on how employers can try and avoid pitfalls while still partaking in the Christmas spirit!
Don’t offer alcohol
Having an alcohol-free event is obviously not always a popular suggestion; however it is one of the best ways to minimise risk for employers, particularly in today’s multi-cultural society where increasing numbers of people don’t partake of the ‘Christmas spirits’ anyway.
As an employer, you have an obligation to keep your employees safe whilst they’re at work, and there is still a supervisory responsibility even when you are hosting the Christmas party.
Hold your party off-site
This won’t absolve the employer of all responsibility but , the restaurant would be considered the provider of alcohol and therefore would assume some of the responsibility for refusing to serve someone when they’ve had too much to drink.
However this is still likely to count as a ‘work’ event and therefore some supervisory liability could still exist for the employer. The employer would still need to take steps for example if say an employee is visibly intoxicated, and not in a position to drive home. As an employer, you can’t simply turn a blind eye.
Hold a lunch or breakfast party
Common sense dictates that daytime parties discourage heavy drinking or pre-drinking. Some employers have been known to host “active” events such as skiing parties, or go karting.
Have a plan for employees who have had too much to drink
Consider offering either somewhere to stay for the evening or transportation to and from the event so people don’t feel compelled to get back in their car after the event and drive themselves home.
Pre-book mini buses / taxis, or book a few hotel rooms nearby in case people need to spend the night.
Invite spouses or families
Aside from excessive drinking, the most common problem that typically arises from office Christmas parties is sexual harassment. Typically the frequency of sexual harassment claims are dramatically reduced at Christmas parties when spouses are included. This can backfire however, if bored spouses are left by the bar while their other halves enjoy themselves only to object, violently, at the end of the evening. Best used in conjunction with a limited bar!
Employees are still bound by workplace policies, even at after-hours parties
A Christmas party does not give an employee free rein to do or say things that would never be tolerated in the workplace, nor does it give an employer the same right. An employee can still be disciplined for conduct that occurs at a company Christmas party.
Be careful about any false promises you make whilst in the party spirit
There is no rule that prevents promises made at the Christmas Party from being unenforceable, provided there is a clear intent for them to be binding. Telling Joe from accounts that he is “your bestest friend in the world” and that you will double his pay in the New Year may come back to bite you.
As always, employing people can be a minefield but it’s up to you to decide what level of risk you are comfortable with and ensure that your employees know what is expected of them before the celebrations commence.
It can be tempting to assume that we’re all grown-ups and common sense will prevail, but unfortunately at this time of year it often doesn’t. As a Tribunal claim makes for a pretty rubbish Christmas present, it’s best to be prepared!
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