December 11, 2019

The Work Christmas Party: Dreading it? # MeToo

Ahh the work Christmas party! A time for colleagues to celebrate the end of the year and enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed setting. Unfortunately, employers can’t just hire a venue, provide a turkey dinner and get a good DJ. There’s much more to consider to make sure everyone stays safe and has a good time.

Last year, sexual harassment complaints soared as global media stories shone the spotlight on accounts of sexual harassment. Think Harvey Weinstein, and the social media #MeToo movement.

What’s more, figures released from Reward Gateway suggest the British workforce is falling out of love with the traditional work Christmas party. According to their research, more than half of employees would be happy to skip it. And it’s not just employees who believe the traditional Christmas do has had its day. Companies are also increasingly worried about events getting out of hand, due to alcohol-soaked celebrations.

Social Media and the Work Christmas Party

In 2016 the DVLA distanced themselves from an ‘unofficial’ work Christmas party. Two of its staff members were secretly filmed in flagrante, by a colleague who shared the video on WhatsApp. With social media, everything can become public that much quicker. What’s more, people are more willing to publicise unwanted behaviour on social media. As such, an incident at a Christmas party could turn into a public relations disaster, if you fail to protect your employees.

An Employer’s Responsibility

No-one wants to be labelled a scrooge during the festive season! However, employers need to perform a balancing act: ensure everyone can have a good time, whilst making sure this does not extend to tolerating inappropriate behaviour, such as sexual harassment.

An employer will not be vicariously liable, however, where it took reasonable steps to prevent the wrongdoing from taking place. We therefore recommend you take the following steps, even if you’ve never had any issues before:

1. Communication

Circulate an office email several weeks prior to the event. Not only should this email contain the basics (the venue, time etc.), but highlight this is a work-related function, even if it’s taking place after hours and at an external venue.

2. Party Policy

Attach a clear work Christmas party policy. It’s preferable to do this rather than relying on any existing conduct at work/alcohol and substance abuse policies. What exactly is ‘inappropriate behaviour’? Make sure everyone is clear and remove any confusion.

3. Transport

Having a party at a venue? Don’t forget about transport! It’s best practice to provide suitable transport for your employees in order to protect them and keep them safe. Be sure to provide transport both to and from the venue (this is of particular importance for any disabled employees).

4. After Parties

Be wary of the after party. While an employer may be liable for an employee’s wrongdoing at the Christmas party itself, employers should make it clear that they will not endorse any unofficial after party that employees may be planning separately. After party events are often a grey area in terms of whether an employer is vicariously liable for acts which take place there and it’s preferable they don’t happen at all.

However, if an after party does go ahead, you should distance your business from it. Make it clear that it’s to be held at a different location and you will not make any financial contribution. If an incident occurs, these measures will help prove that the after party was not in the course of employment. Further, it should show that an employee who committed any wrongdoing, was on a “frolic of their own”.

5. Complaints Procedure

Make sure employees have the ability to raise complaints in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously and investigated. Having a clear bullying and harassment policy will assist with this.

Next steps

If you’re a Moorepay customer who’d like support with any of the steps we’ve listed above, you can contact our advice line on 0345 073 0240.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in finding out more about our HR Services you can contact us or download our brochure.

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About the author

Donna Chadbone

Donna completed her post graduate studies in Human Resource Management (MCIPD) and then spent 7 years working as an in house HR Consultant in the corporate financial services sector. She has worked with a range of clients from the engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, service, leisure, education, construction and care industries.