UK: It's Christmas Party Time!

Last Updated: 15 December 2016
Article by Rupa Mooker

As Noddy Holder once screeched – "IT'S CHRISTMAAAAAAS!" (Well, almost.) " 'Tis the season to be jolly!" we are encouraged by a well-known Christmas carol. "Even at the office Christmas party?" you ask. Yes – even there. Here are some basic rules and tips to consider if you are having one.

Rule 1: Think about a suitable venue, food and drink

Is the venue accessible to all staff? How will they get home from the venue? Employers may wish to consider hiring minibuses or coaches to leave at set times near the end, or at the end of the event.

Providing food at a party may also assist with preventing excessive alcohol consumption. However, remember that staff who hold certain religious or other beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat certain foods. Asking ahead about dietary requirements so that these can be accommodated is useful and minimises the risk of anyone being left out. Similarly, remember to provide soft drinks and water for those who do not consume alcohol.

Tip 1: Limiting the supply of free alcohol to a few complimentary drinks rather than providing a free bar all night is probably sensible.

Rule 2: Explain what is/is not acceptable prior to the party

If employees know what the acceptable standards of behaviour at a party are, and the disciplinary sanctions that will arise if they breach those standards, they are more likely to behave themselves. No drugs, no fighting etc.

Also, arranging 'Secret Santa' gifts is fairly common in some workplaces and an opportunity for people to have a bit of a laugh. However, it's advisable to spread the message that gifts should be inoffensive.

Tip 2: Giving lingerie might be hilarious to the person who is gifting it but might not be to the person receiving it in front of all their colleagues. Best to avoid it. Buy some candles instead.

Rule 3: Set out clear expectations about absences the next day

You may find that some staff call in sick the day after the Christmas party. Even if you suspect the reason they are not in work that day is because they had too much to drink the night before, you must clarify this before taking any potential disciplinary action. Employers must also act consistently. So, if you usually exercise some leniency to lateness or unauthorised absence the day after the Christmas party don't use it as a reason to discipline/dismiss a certain employee.

Tip 3: Don't expect spectacular work from those who do turn up for work slightly worse for wear.

Rule 4: Remember Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram

It is wise to issue a reminder to staff about what the social media policy says. This will hopefully limit the chances of pictures being posted online that could bring your business into disrepute or breach an individual's right to privacy. More generally, having policies on work-related social events and harassment is important and these should be communicated to staff prior to such events.

Tip 4: #Alwaysuseafilter

Rule 5: Keep up with the latest legal developments

For example, have you heard about the very recent case where the MD of a recruitment company punched one of the firm's salesmen after a Christmas night out? The salesman suffered brain damage and raised a claim seeking damages from the recruitment company on the basis that it was vicariously liable for the MD's actions.

In the particular circumstances of this case, the incident took place just after the company's Christmas party. The Judge held that the "spontaneous post event drink" at the hotel "cannot be seen as a seamless extension of the Christmas party" and that the company was not vicariously liable.

Remember however that even if a party is held offsite and outside normal working hours, employers can still be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees. This includes harassment which is defined in The Equality Act 2010 as "unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual." The relevant protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. So, discriminatory acts at a party are not limited to unwanted sexual advances and lewd comments only.

Tip 5: Sign up for our Employment Law Insights here.

Whilst having such rules and policies in place may result in staff wondering whether they are in fact employed by Scrooge, they are an important precaution to ensure everyone enjoys the festive season carefully and responsibly.

From all at MacRoberts, enjoy your Christmas party!

© MacRoberts 2016


The material contained in this article is of the nature of general comment only and does not give advice on any particular matter. Recipients should not act on the basis of the information in this e-update without taking appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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