February 18th, 2015 / Insight posted in

The Office Christmas Party and the legal risks for the Employer

By Linda Powell Christmas is just not Christmas without the office Christmas party. It is important to bear in mind that social events at the office or after work are still connected to work and are considered to be an extension of the workplace. Previous cases have decided that an employer was liable for harassment in the pub at an after work event, and even an incident when walking home from the Christmas party! However your business is celebrating Christmas this year, it’s wise to make sure it’s an inclusive event for all your employees. Not everyone wants to, or can, drink alcohol for religious or health reasons, so make sure there are also plenty of soft drinks available. Some employees may also need to drive home. Equally with food, ensuring that there are choices for vegetarians is essential as dietary/ health reasons or religious beliefs may impact their options. Taking account of all employees’ needs helps to make everyone feel included, minimises grievances or allegations of discrimination, and ensures everyone can enjoy the event. If you have chosen an external venue, there may be some other considerations to bear in mind. For example disabled access for employees (or their partners) may be important. Making arrangements for getting people home, even by simply having a list of the local taxi firms, is a good idea. Limiting the amount of free alcohol available is not only kind on the entertainment budget but ensures that the night does not end badly. Once the arrangements have been made, let your employees know the plans. Send a memo to all employees (including those who are sick, on maternity, paternity or adoption leave) inviting them to the event, reminding them that it is a work event and to act appropriately. Bad behaviour can be tackled more easily as employees have been pre-warned. Social media can also create problems. Businesses are strongly encouraged to communicate their expectations by reminding employees what is and is not acceptable to post, and any unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with via the Disciplinary Procedure. Even with warnings, some employees will still behave badly and needs to be managed. Our advice is to stop inappropriate behaviour immediately and send employees home in taxis. In the cold light of day, these issues can be tackled using the normal Disciplinary Procedures. If you have any questions or concerns about deal with office party issues, contact HR Insight for some advice.