A Guide to Avoiding Office Christmas Party Hangovers

The Christmas party is usually laid on for all staff and employees as a way of thanking them for their hard work during the year, and boosting morale.

But there are important issues to think about alongside the festivities, and employers would be well-advised to plan ahead. As we say in the minefield that is employment law, being forewarned is forearmed. So to avoid headaches (of a different sort) after your festive gathering, the following is intended act as a guide for employers faced with this task.

When planning and making arrangements for the event, employers should be careful to ensure that the venue is appropriate for and accessible by any employees with disabilities and that all health and safety protocols are satisfied. When fixing a time and date for the party, employers should be mindful of the need to make it inclusive for all its workers. There may be religious objections to a party held on a Friday or a Sunday, or an evening event may disadvantage (and therefore indirectly discriminate against) those with childcare responsibilities. If you plan to extend the guest list to welcome employees’ partners, make sure that your invitation extends to same-sex partners as well as heterosexual partners. Ask your employees if they have any special dietary requirements – assuming, for example, that all of your employees will eat pork when some may have religious objections to that can land you in a hot water – and accommodate them.

Office Christmas parties are not usually religious events but usually occur at Christmas time. Be sure to include employees of a different religion in the celebration.

Anticipate any problems before they occur by having in place, and circulating in plenty of time, a clear and unambiguous policy on work-related social events. Not many employers have a policy which sets and communicates expectations on work-related gatherings, but there is a considerable advantage to creating one. Likewise, make sure that your policy on harassment is clear, up to date and communicated organisation-wide. Even if your party takes place outside normal office hours, you are still responsible for ensuring that your employees are not harassed and discriminated against and if they are, you will probably have to accept responsibility (vicarious liability) for that. It is essential that your employees are protected not only from banter which oversteps the mark, but equally from unwanted conduct on the grounds of race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion and belief. Suggestive Secret Santa presents may initially seem amusing, but the reality can be very different for the person on the receiving end and for an employer the joke will certainly come to an abrupt halt if a Tribunal claim ensues.

When the long-awaited event does come around, your employees are more likely to relax and enjoy it in the clear knowledge of what is (and is not) expected of them. It can still be fun. And finally, if it is so much fun that attending work the following day is too much for some of your employees, be careful not to make assumptions about over-indulgence but deal with unauthorised absence consistently and fairly, getting advice at the earliest opportunity from our experienced and knowledgeable Employment Law team here at Gardner Croft Solicitors.

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