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On the last day of Christmas my employee sent to me… A grievance about the party

Fiona McAnaw – BTMK

The office Christmas party is an opportunity for employers to thank staff for their efforts over the year and for staff to let their hair down with colleagues.

However, with the provision of free alcohol and the ever increasing proliferation of social media, events at the Christmas party can lead to litigation, and allegations of discrimination and harassment.

It’s important for employers to strike an appropriate balance between hosting a celebratory event and ensuring that employees understand the boundaries.

To avoid the headache of HR issues the next morning, here are BTMK’s top tips for a successful Christmas party.

Invitations

Employers should ensure that all employees are invited to the office Christmas party as a matter of good practice and also to avoid any complaints of discrimination. It is important to extend invitations to employees on maternity or paternity leave and it may also be appropriate to invite those on sick leave depending on the nature of their illness. Employers should be careful not pressurise employees of non-Christian faiths into attending the Christmas Party if this would make them feel uncomfortable.

Make sure everyone knows the rules

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at the Christmas party, as they are deemed to be an extension of the workplace. Employees should be reminded that the Company’s policies on harassment and discrimination still apply at work social events.

Check your policies and procedures are in good order

If you intend to remind employees about workplace policies and procedures, you should first ensure that they are up-to-date and cover the behaviour you are concerned about. In particular, it is important to review disciplinary and grievance procedures, and policies relating to bullying and discrimination.

Give an alcohol warning

Informing employees that you expect them to drink responsibly may sound obvious, but a surprising number of employees get carried away. Employees should understand that drinking to excess or engaging in inappropriate or offensive behaviour will not be tolerated.

Insure your risk

It’s a good idea to ensure that your employer’s liability insurance and any applicable directors and officers insurance are up to date before the party celebration ensues.

Remind employees about the dangers of social media

Getting that perfect picture of their inebriated colleague in a compromising position can be the highlight of an employee’s Christmas party. However, the instant and extensive use of social media to post such images can lead to embarrassment for employers and claims from employees that they have been compromised. Employers should ensure that employees understand the impact and damage that can be caused by social media posts and make it clear that the social media policy will apply to the event.

Ensure employees get home safely

As far as possible, it is a good idea to ensure employees are provided with information regarding taxis or other transport for their journey home.

Have Fun

It is important to deliver the right messages to protect your employees and the business but do not get too carried away with rules and regulations. If your staff see your message as trying to remove all of the fun, it will take away the point of having a party in the first place. The right balance is important.

Encourage binge drinking

Shots at the bar with your team may seem like a good idea, but this could be seen to encourage excessive alcohol consumption. Employers should consider the appropriate duration of a free bar and the effect of any alcohol promotions at the venue.

Put up mistletoe

It is not advisable to display mistletoe as it may encourage incidents and the potential for claims of sexual harassment.

Make Promises

The best advice for managers is not to discuss career potential or remuneration with employees, as words of encouragement and good intentions could be misinterpreted.

If employees are clear on the behaviour expected of them this should reduce the potential for feuds and workplace disputes.

For more advice call Fiona McAnaw on 01702 238541

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