How to avoid the legal hangover of the works Christmas party

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The works Christmas party is a time for employees to be merry and employers to beware.

Employers look upon the works Christmas party season as an opportunity to recognise their employees’ contributions and efforts throughout the year. They also consider it to be an occasion to assist with team building and boosting staff morale.

However, whilst the works Christmas party is seen as an occasion where employees can let their hair down and have fun, many employers inevitably find themselves having to deal with the aftermath.

Although employees may believe they are immune from disciplinary action since their misconduct occurred outside the workplace, they are misguided in that belief.

In fact, an employer may be entitled to take disciplinary action in relation to an employee’s misconduct even where the misconduct incident occurred after the works Christmas party, if the incident is sufficiently closely connected to work to have an impact on the working situation.

An employment tribunal concluded an employee assaulting a colleague on the way home from a Christmas party could have had an impact on the working environment as the company was small and close contact was unavoidable. Therefore, the employer had acted fairly in dismissing the assailant for gross misconduct.

Unfortunately, where alcohol is present there is always the possibility of inappropriate behaviour on the part of employee requiring the employer having to take some form of action.

Issues rising at or following a works Christmas party requiring employer intervention vary from the relatively run of the mill unauthorised absence of an employee to more serious allegations of discrimination or unwanted conduct and sexual harassment.

Therefore, an employer would be well advised to consider taking the following actions as pre-emptive measures to minimize the risk of having to deal with any aftermath of the works Christmas party.

Don’t discriminate

  • When organising Christmas parties, employers should consider the needs of all their employees.  The time of the party and an employee’s child care arrangements, the provision of food and non-alcoholic drinks, food to comply with religious and cultural requirements, and any physical assistance which may be required for any disabled employees.

Keep employees informed

  • Inform all employees attending the Christmas party that as a work related event they remain subject to the company’s rules and procedures.
  • Send out a memo/email to all employees prior to the Christmas party reminding them of the company’s expectations in respect of their behaviour. Reminding them to drink alcohol responsibly and in moderation.
  • Inform employees that any unacceptable behaviour may be dealt with by implementing the disciplinary procedure.
  • Ensure all employees have received a copy of the Employee/Staff Handbook and are familiar with the company’s policies on anti-harassment and bullying, discrimination and social media.

Make managers aware of their responsibilities

  • Remind the company’s managers of the responsibilities of their position at such an event and that they should avoid any discussions with employees on career progression or salary increase requests.
  • Nominate one of the company’s managers to avoid alcohol so they can monitor the proceedings keeping a lookout for unacceptable behaviour.  The same person may also be appointed to take photos of the event.

Keep staff safe

  • Consider arranging for employees to be transported to and from the event to reduce the likelihood of drink-driving and thereby ensuring they get home safely.

Finally, where instances of inappropriate behaviour on the part of an employee attending a work Christmas party occur, an employer should take swift action on the return to work, commencing with a full investigation of the incident.

Moreover, to avoid the risk of it turning into a disaster the employer should seek appropriate legal advice.

Contact our expert Employment Law team

For expert advice on all the rights of employers and employees, you can contact our expert Employment Law team today.

To speak directly to an Employment Law solicitor, call us on 01282 695 400, or simply complete the online contact form to arrange a quick call-back.