It’s that time of year again – when employees start to rub their hands at the thought of another office Christmas party.
Parties and festive get-togethers can be great fun, a boost to staff morale and a time to let different departments mix together, but occasionally they can cause trouble for an employer: alcohol-fuelled arguments, morning-after absence, and even discrimination to name but a few issues. We Talk Law has written this guide to help you, the employer (or the colleague!), take steps to ensure an enjoyable party for all.
Don’t make attendance compulsory
Firstly, it’s important to remember that Christmas is a religious holiday, and that some of your staff may not want to attend a party based on their religious beliefs. Others might have responsibilities such as children or partners that may prevent them from attending if the event is outside office hours. Make sure that any invitations you send out clearly state that it is okay not to come.
Decking the halls
If you’re decorating your office for the festive period, then remember to carry out a proper risk assessment to ensure your reams of tinsel, lights, and baubles don’t infringe on Health and Safety laws, especially where there’s a fire hazard, such as tree lights. It’s a common misconception that Christmas decorations automatically breach Health and Safety laws, but it’s important to make sure your decorations can’t cause injury or harm.
If any of your employees are uncomfortable with Christmas decorations because of religious reasons, it’s worth remembering that most Christmas decorations, like tinsel, lights, holly, and trees, are actually secular such as tinsel, lights and trees are secular and not innately religious.
We would recommend making sure you set a few ground rules if your staff are running a Secret Santa in the office. Remind your employees that while some gifts could be funny for the giver, they could come across as offensive or inappropriate for the recipient.
Outline your expectations
It’s important to remind your staff that a Christmas party is still a work-related event and legally an extension of the office environment, even if it is held offsite and outside working hours. This means that employers are likely to be liable for any poor behaviour.
Do try to find a middle ground between allowing employees to let their hair down and have a good time, and making sure that their overall behaviour is acceptable. It’s a worthwhile precaution for employers to take. Provide clear and written guidance on your expectations and reiterate that excessive consumption of alcohol, fighting, harassment, use of drugs, criminal offences such as drinking and driving, and inappropriate behaviour or comments will not be tolerated, and may result in a disciplinary or dismissal.
It may also be worth providing travel arrangements such as taxis, buses, or phone numbers for cab companies ahead of time to ensure everybody arrives home safely.
’Tis the season
While the festive season is a time for enjoying a drink or two, you may want to avoid providing a free bar, as it can promote excessive drinking. Combine alcohol with food from the outset by providing a buffet early on or serving a meal. Entertainment like discos, party games, or quizzes also help to keep staff from propping up the bar. Be on the lookout for any individuals that look a little worse for wear.
As for employers, it’s worthwhile to stay a drink or two behind the rest of your staff, as alcohol is infamous for loosening tongues. Directors and managers should definitely avoid conversations with staff about promotions, salaries or career prospects during the Christmas party.
Don’t forget to cater for any employees that don’t drink or under-18s that are legally not allowed to drink. Provide plenty of alternatives and access to water, and make sure that nobody feels pressurised to drink, for instance during toasts.
As with alcohol, it’s important to cater for all members of your staff, from notorious carnivores to vegetarians, and vegans to those with food allergies. Provide your staff with the ability to flag any dietary requirements to you ahead of time, and double-check with the venue or catering company when making your booking or reservation.
The morning after
It’s very likely that some of your employees will be a little worse for wear the day after your party if it is held on Monday to Thursday. It’s important to be clear about your expectations regarding absence or lateness. However, try to be realistic, and not expect through the roof performance from those who do turn up. Outline your expectations in writing once again and explain the extent of your leniency. More importantly, ensure that the same expectations apply to everybody to avoid any allegations of discrimination.
We hope this guide has been useful to you, and wish you a very happy holidays and best of luck with your Christmas party. If you need to find out more about any of the aspects mentioned above, call us free on 0203 002 4898 or get in touch at: [email protected].