The annual work Christmas party can be a great opportunity to bring everyone together and finish the year on a high, but for employers, there’s potential for a hangover that lasts far beyond the next morning.
For many employers in 2020, Christmas parties were another casualty of the pandemic. They either hosted a remote party via Zoom or Teams, or substituted vouchers and gifts to mark the work put in by their employees during what was a very hard year. As the UK economy started to return to normality at the end of the summer, employers have been busy organising social events and a Christmas party has been firmly on the agenda for many. However, there are several factors to consider when hosting an employee event and even more so this year with the increasing rate of infection across the country.
It is a long-established legal principle that whether the party or social event takes place in the office or an alternative venue, it will be considered to be an extension of the workplace and employers can be vicariously liable for events that unfold. Employers have an obligation to provide a ‘safe place to work’ which extends to workplace social events. With this in mind, employers will need to be sure that the chosen venue for the party complies in full with all the public health and public safety rules in place.
Before the event, guidelines need to be in place as employers have a duty to safeguard staff welfare, so setting boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour, and highlighting that any misconduct will result in the use pf the employer disciplinary procedure, in the event of poor conduct.
Alcohol consumption also needs to be managed, and if there is a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol in the workplace, managers need to give guidelines on what will be acceptable at the office party or other team get-togethers, particularly if it is during the working day.
Another Christmas party risk, once tongues are loosened by drink, is sexual harassment and unwanted advances, which could make an employer liable for not providing adequate protection for an employee. It’s another area that should be covered by a strong policy and clear attitude at management level.
June Salmon, Employment Law Solicitor, at Spire Solictors LLP added: “It may feel like you are not in the Christmas spirit, to send a set of instructions along with the invitation, but it’s the best way to avoid a lasting hangover that upsets everyone. Some simple ways to keep things under control include reinforcing the message that it’s an extension of the workplace and that the standard of behaviour expected is just the same as at work. It’s also worth using this opportunity to update staff on their equality obligations, to be sure they understand what could constitute harassment and making clear that it is unacceptable.
It’s a safeguard for the company if you do such training and record that it’s taken place, alongside making sure your disciplinary policies are clear about what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and making sure they are applied consistently.”
For more information on anything in this article, please contact our Employment department on 01603 677077.