November 28, 2017

12 Steps to Protect your Employees and Business During the Festive/Christmas Party Period

We are coming up to that time of year again when most people will be attending a festive/Christmas function of some description either in the office, at an organised event or even just down at the local pub.

But beware – high festive/Christmas spirits can cause problems for employers and land you in trouble if you don’t take steps to prevent it.

Employment legislation covers employees for all work-related activities and this extends to social occasions organised by the company.

Consideration needs to be given to location and any health & safety issues, access for disabled employees and whether you are excluding some employees on racial or religious grounds.

In a similar vein, employees need to be aware that they too are not exempt from the employment relationship when attending a festive/Christmas function and may need reminding of this fact.

So here’s our 12 steps to help you and your employees have a successful festive/Christmas party:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Talk to your employees about plans for a festive/Christmas party. Ask for volunteers to get involved with the arrangements and ask employees what they would like to do and where they would like to go. Gaining buy-in from employees up front will help prevent people feeling they have been excluded from the arrangement.

2. Choose a suitable location

Disabled employees should be given the same right to attend festive/Christmas functions as able-bodied employees. Make sure you think carefully about your venue and any restrictions this might place on your employees. If the venue may cause difficulties e.g. the entrance has steps rather than a ramp, speak to the venue owner and see what arrangements can be made.

3. Consider arranging transport

The last thing you want at the end of the festive/Christmas party is for an employee to fall over and injure themselves on the way home. Health & safety is still your concern and you need to make sure they have safe passage home. Remember, they may still be over the limit the following morning if driving into work. Consider booking taxis to take people home, arranging a mini bus or ensuring there is a designated driver. And it goes without saying, but make sure drunken employees do not drive themselves, and others, home in the company car!

4. Date, time and location

Give some thought to the date, time and location of the function to ensure this does not mean a certain religious or racial group is excluded from attending due to a foreseeable event. If you are in any doubt over this speak to your HR representative for advice. Where a person or group is excluded from attending, consider any alternatives for them.

5. Work venue

If you decide to hold the festive/Christmas party on work premises make sure you take precautions. Lock away anything valuable that might be broken, unplug PCs and photocopiers and restrict party games that could get out of hand. festive/Christmas parties can be costly to your business if behaviour gets out of control.

6. Establish a code of conduct

Produce a code of conduct, a set of dos and don’ts for the event. Outlining your expectations of employees’ behaviour and giving this to them before the event will help protect you from claims.

7. Keep your procedures up to date

It is necessary to constantly review your working practises. But it is particularly important at this time of year that you have your disciplinary and dismissal procedures, grievance procedures and alcohol and drug misuse policy up to date so that you have mechanisms in place to cope with any eventuality.

8. Train your managers and people in positions of responsibility

Although everyone attending the function wants to enjoy themselves people in a position of authority or responsibility need to watch out for drunken or abusive behaviour and take steps to tackle these situations as they occur. It is important to remember that the company can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees.

9. Be clear about where you draw the line

Claims of sexual harassment are very common at festive/Christmas parties. Be vigilant. Make sure that employees are aware that abusive behaviour, including sexual harassment and violence, will not be tolerated under any circumstances. And make sure your managers are clear on what forms of ‘drunken’ behaviour may constitute gross misconduct and that this is applied consistently. If one person behaves in an unacceptable way and is disciplined, so must everyone else in the same situation.

10. Follow the rules

Your disciplinary processes are there for a reason. Just because it is a festive/Christmas party does not mean that you should stop following your normal processes. You won’t get away with sacking someone on the spot because they have behaved outrageously when you haven’t followed your own disciplinary process.

11. Hangovers

Encourage employees to book holiday if they are due to come to work after a night of drinking and celebration. Make it clear to employees that unexplained absence – or a hangover-related illness – is not acceptable and any abuse of the sickness policy will be considered a disciplinary offence. Consider allowing employees to start work an hour later to allow them longer to recover.

12. Enjoy yourselves

Although all the above points are serious remember that your overall aim is for everyone to have fun. Ending the year on a real high note will help to start 2018 with happy, motivated employees and allow you to focus on your new year plans. It’s all about balance – open the bubbly and celebrate the year gone by and your collective work achievements while remembering to respect your peers and your employer’s wishes. Just maybe lay off the mistletoe…

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.