What is an employer’s responsibility at a work party?
What’s the definition of a workplace party? Who is responsible if things go wrong? That’s something people all over the country are asking and we’re here to give you the facts.
While for most of us the big ‘Work Christmas Do’ has been on hold for a couple of years, a less formal approach to work has seen an increase in more casual social events, including drinks after work.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to people who are attending work events, whether in your office or organised by the business in a bar or restaurant. If you provide alcohol – whether it’s a few bottles of beer in the office as a thank you at the end of a big project, or a free bar at an annual party – and someone has an accident or behaves inappropriately with a colleague, you can be held responsible. Setting the tone and having a quiet word with anyone who seems to be taking conviviality too far is probably the best way forward with the former. With a large party externally, issuing guidelines with the invitations could protect you in the event of a problem.
If you do want to offer a social event in the workplace itself, it’s best to take a few sensible precautions. The prevailing culture shouldn’t be the consumption of alcohol. You can’t be seen to encourage drinking where people might be driving home. And however friendly everyone is, a boozy atmosphere absolutely excludes non-drinkers. That’s bad for team building and in some situations could even be a risk to your business.
Even if you don’t have a large garden everybody can mingle in, make it clear people should finish work before joining the party. Spilled liquids and snack foods, never mind impaired judgements, are not compatible with machinery, customers or laptops.
Although you can’t be held responsible for something that goes awry if a few of your team make their own plans to meet up away from the workplace and in their own time, it can be difficult to look the other way if there is a falling out that is brought to your attention. Your time could still be taken up building bridges or managing difficult relationships.
So how can you manage this? Making sure people change out of uniform or put away their lanyard passes can reduce the risk of reputational damage. And a good HR team who are up-to-date on current legislation and best practise can help enormously with these tricky situations too.