Christmas is just around the corner – is your organisation planning to have a Christmas party?
Christmas music has been playing on the radio and in the shops for a number of weeks now
which can only mean one thing – the Christmas season is fast approaching along with the anticipation of the associated festivities.
Many companies like to put on a Christmas party for their hard-working staff, but with that there comes responsibilities on both sides.
Christmas parties generally have a positive impact on moral and team spirit and it is an opportunity for an employer to thank employees for all their hard work. However, the boundaries need to be set by the employer to avoid any future problems.
This year we have seen a lot in the news recently pertaining to harassment and the effect of such allegations on those involved.
UK legislation is clear, the office party is an extension of the normal work environment even if it is held at a separate venue or outside of working hours. Employers can be held responsible for employee actions so need to avoid discrimination and health and safety claims and should therefore have clear procedures in place.
Planning a Christmas party can be troublesome if certain do’s and don’ts are not followed.
Everyone wants to have a good time at a Christmas party, and it should be enjoyed by all who attend and be free from any potentially embarrassing incidents but employees often forget parties are an extension of the work environment and as such some basic guidelines should be followed.
Employers should have clear guidance for employees on behaviour at work-related events and set out the possible implications of their actions. Managers may want to remind staff before any Christmas party what the employer's policy states, to avoid behaviours that could be viewed as harassment or misconduct.
Under health and safety legislation, you have a general duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your acts or omissions – it is also pertinent to remind employees that they must take responsibility for their actions.
There are so many issues that could arise from a Christmas party – harassment, discrimination, health and safety, absence management, disciplinary action – many of which could be avoided if you plan and communicate accordingly.
Below are some do’s and don’ts along with a checklist for actioning to help the event go without issue.
DO’S AND DON’TS
Do not make attendance at your Christmas party compulsory - bear in mind that not everyone celebrates the holiday, but do make sure to include everyone. It may also clash with non-Christian religious dates, giving some employees an argument for discrimination on religious grounds. Compulsory attendance may also amount to sex discrimination, as there may be an argument to say that more male employees may be able to attend your works Christmas part due to them not having the main childcare responsibilities.
Do not forget to invite any employees who are currently on maternity/paternity leave to avoid a claim for pregnancy or maternity discrimination. All employees have a right to equal treatment so invite them all!
If you have under 18s working for you consider where you hold your Christmas party. If you decide to hold it at a bar where no under 18s are allowed this may be age discrimination. If there is no age restriction at the venue, remind them they should not be drinking alcohol.
Whilst most venues nowadays will be fully accessible for any disabled employees, bear in mind that disabled employees must not be treated less favourably and should be encouraged, and able, to attend the Christmas party in the same way as non-disabled employees.
Before the event, remind staff about company HR policies concerning discrimination, bullying and harassment and equal opportunities. Forewarn them that inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party will be disciplined in the same way as during work hours.
Avoid fuelling drunken antics, which may constitute misconduct warranting disciplinary action. Don’t provide free drinks for your staff all night, if at all. If you do, ensure that the bar tenders at the venue are vigilant and do not serve already intoxicated employees.
Bear in mind that alcohol can often fuel unwanted sexual advances and this could constitute sexual harassment. Employers must ensure that they are not seen as condoning such behaviour and if they witness anything on the night, should take action.
Do remind employees that they are required to report for work the following day, unless they have arranged in advance to take a day's annual leave and any actions that will be taken should they not turn in for work - a hangover is not an acceptable reason for sickness absence.
Consider sending a communication to all employees (don’t forget those on maternity/paternity leave) prior to your Christmas party outlining your policy on harassment, and making it clear to your employees that although the party may be taking place outside of working hours, their actions will still be deemed to be in the course of their employment. You may also want to ask them to share this with their partners/guest for the evening.
So, what should you be doing in preparation…
Don’t get caught the morning after; it takes less than you think - according to www.drinkdriving.org almost 18% of all drink drivers are caught the morning after the night before, don't leave it to chance.
If you need help with a policy for events or guidance on drafting an invitation or communication to your employees, get in touch.