November 1, 2015

Christmas Party HR tips for employers

Office Christmas parties can be a fantastic morale boost for employees but employers need to be aware of potential risks, such as alcohol fuelled fights, discrimination and absenteeism.

Employers have responsibility for their staff members at any work-related Christmas function.

When employee behaviour strays into misconduct, particularly where alcohol is involved, they are often the result of arguments or frustrations from incidents over the year.

They can escalate into fighting and far more serious incidents involving other people or property, accusations of sexual harassment and police involvement to name but a few.


1. Employers also have Health & Safety obligations to their employees and others. This includes (but is not limited to) a misbehaving employee or other people whose safety is compromised by the actions of an employee.

2. If you are hosting a function which includes clients or third parties, the reputation of the employer can be at stake if the employees are identifiable as being part of the employer’s business.

3. Sexual harassment can constitute anything from an off-colour joke, or an ill thought out Secret Santa gift, to dance floor hi-jinks.

4. Any of these types of incidents (together with other party-gone-wrong possibilities, such as harassment, violence, damage to property, theft, etc.) are capable of being misconduct.  Any employer could consider running a disciplinary process, leaving a bitter sweet taste of what is mean to be a time of fun.

What can employers do to prevent problems arising?

  • Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies.  Explain the impact of any misconduct may lead to formal disciplinary action and any expectations as to behaviour.
  • Consider having some managers present at the party to keep an eye on things… Who will send the ‘reveller’ home via a taxi if required?
  • Don’t provide a ‘free’ bar or excessive drinks on the table.
  • Encourage collective responsibility, i.e. make employees responsible for their colleagues (particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and behaviour).
  • Prohibit work vehicles being taken to functions unless the driver is a dedicated sober driver.
  • Arrange for transport home or accommodation.
  • Finally, don’t kill the fun – remind employees it is fun, a celebration, and that employees who do not adhere to the policy or code of conduct on behaviour spoil the party for everyone.

Client Parties

What about client parties, such as the sales team getting invited to a client’s Christmas function.

Employers are still expected to take some responsibility for their employees even though they will have less control over their staff members.

  • Poor employee behaviour at a client’s function has the potential to damage the client relationship, reputation of your business and potentially lose the client and any other clients that may also be present. This may be deemed misconduct and a disciplinary process commenced. Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies if you have one.  Explain the impact of these in clear terms and any expectations as to behaviour.
  • Tell employees that they are attending client functions as guests and as ambassadors of their employer.  That is important to reinforce that everything they do reflects on you.
  • Also consider providing transport home.  This may depend on the nature of the client relationship and your general awareness of it, e.g. a big client with many people from your business attending will give you more opportunity to put some rules in place and have someone keep an eye on proceedings.

For further advice and support on this topic, you can join our FREE Behaviours Outside of Work Webinar. You can also contact us or call our advice line.

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About the author

Andrew Weir

About the author

Andrew Weir

Andrew has a wealth of experience in advising and representing clients of all shapes and sizes in a range of Employment Law topics from unfair dismissal through to all forms of discrimination and the complexities of TUPE. Andrew heads up our Advice Line and Advocacy teams who provide Employment Law advice to our clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and support our clients in presenting defences at Employment Tribunals throughout the UK & Ireland.

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