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Zoe Mackenzie

Operations Manager

How to avoid work Christmas party pitfalls

Office Christmas party

Tis the season to be jolly and we all like to let our hair down at the work Christmas Party.  After the events of the last couple of years, we’re all in need of some festive distraction!  With free-flowing booze, inhibitions often go out of the window and people can get rather carried away, which is all great fun on the night, but back in the office, in the cold light of day, it can all be rather different.  At best, it’s hiding hangovers and embarrassed people avoiding eye contact for a couple of days, at worst it’s serious breaches of company policy and allegations being made.

And this year, with the cost of living crisis looming large, there is also the cost implications of partying to consider, because whether the get together is fully funded, subsidised or paid for by individuals, someone has to foot the bill.

However, don’t forget that Christmas parties are a great opportunity to lift staff morale and give your employees a rewarding social occasion, so don’t be put off hosting them.  How can you then avoid the pitfalls of the office party without being a grinch?  And how do you deal with the aftermath when things go wrong?

Here’s a list of considerations to keep in mind when planning the work’s Christmas do:

The event itself 

Making few wise decisions at the planning stage can help avoid some issues altogether.

Unless you are planning to fully fund the event with all food, drinks and travel included, you’ll need to mindful of whether your employees can afford to attend.  Paying for a round of drinks and a late- night taxi all adds up and may be more than individuals can spare.  Choose a venue that is close to where people live and help organise shared transport so costs are reduced – and don’t choose a bar with exorbitant prices.

If you are putting money behind the event, be responsible and consider how much ‘free booze’ you make available, so that you’re not fuelling drunken behaviour. If you are going to supply free alcohol, you should ensure that soft drinks are also available for non-drinkers. Taking this one step further, choose an event that doesn’t involve alcohol at all – there are plenty of fun alternative activities available – from creative workshops to adrenalin-fuelled outdoor sports!  You should also be sensitive to any employees for whom alcohol is a complete no-go, for example for religious reasons or if they have addiction problems.  Remember that all employees should be invited, including anyone on maternity or paternity leave, and even those on sick leave, where appropriate.

It’s a work-related event

When planning a party, employers should remember that any event they host is legally considered an extension of the working environment, even when out of office hours and outside of the workplace. The same duties therefore apply. You should bear in mind that employers can potentially be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees if those actions are deemed to have been committed in the course of employment.

The Venue

When choosing the venue, employers should ensure that it is accessible to all. For example, a venue with a flight of stairs leading to the entrance would not necessarily be suited to any disabled employees. The venue must also not be likely to cause offence to anyone – a strip club may be desirable to some employees, but it will not appeal to all!

Merriment

This is the big one. If alcohol is available, consider forms of “damage limitation” in order to prevent employees from drinking too much. It may be a good idea for employers to send a polite email beforehand to remind employees that it is a work-related event and a certain level of professionalism is still expected – especially if there is going to be a free bar or free drinks with a meal. You may also consider designating managers to monitor staff and to keep an eye out for any underage employees.

Inappropriate Behaviour 

Employers are still responsible for any unacceptable behaviour from their employees towards one another and third parties. This includes sexual harassment and anything that could be classed as rude or bullying. No one wants to be a party-pooper, but you might wish to consider providing written guidance to all employees about the acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, and the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaching them.

Social Media

The run up to the Christmas party provides a perfect time to review your social media policies – nobody wants inappropriate and undesirable pictures of staff or management ending up on social media sites for all to see.

Discussions to Avoid

Management should take care not to discuss any employee performance or remuneration at events outside of work. This is inappropriate and can lead to disputes over what was discussed or agreed.

Post Party Absenteeism

If your employees have to work the day after the party, they should be reminded what is expected of them in terms of start times and work. A consistent approach to disciplinary action for unacceptable absenteeism should be taken, but it is also worth remembering that people do genuinely get ill at this time of year. 

Pre-party Tips

To summarise, here’s a few tips for before the event:

  • Make it clear to all employees that the Christmas Party (and any after party) is a work function and so an appropriate standard of conduct is expected
  • Remind staff that attendance is not compulsory
  • Ensure that all staff know to observe the employer’s policies, including those relating to conduct, equal opportunities, bullying and harassment, and social media
  • Advise staff that, if drinking alcohol, they should drink responsibly, and that under no circumstances should anyone drink and drive. Make it known that non-alcoholic drinks will be available
  • Prewarn that drunken and/or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse and harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature will not be tolerated and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action
  • Brief your managersyour management team deserve to relax and have fun too but remind them that they need to remain professional and lead by example.  You have trusted them with a management position and they need to accept the responsibilities that come with that.

Our content is correct at the date of publishing, but should not be taken as legal advice, and our articles don’t replace Risk Assessments. Armour will not be held accountable for any legal actions the reader may take.