The holiday is upon us, and with it comes the office Christmas party for many. Staff may also be invited to Christmas events from other businesses.
Navigating the office Christmas party can be at times tricky for employers. Christmas traditionally the time of year when employees are at their most relaxed. It can be a busy time for employment lawyers. Employers should ensure that festivities remain enjoyable without unintentionally crossing legal boundaries.
The Christmas party should be a celebration for everyone, and employers must ensure that it is inclusive and free from discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination based on characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, and disability. Employers should be mindful of the party venue, catering choices, and overall atmosphere to create an environment that is inclusive and that respects diversity. Any discriminatory practices, whether intentional or not, can lead to legal repercussions. Staff should be made aware that any discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated and that the same rules apply during the Christmas part or event as they do in the workplace.
Attendance at the Christmas party should always be voluntary.
If the Christmas party include the consumption of alcohol, employers should take steps to prevent excessive drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to inappropriate behaviour and potential legal issues. Clear communication about expected behaviour in advance on any party is key. If the Company has an alcohol policy it is essential that this is followed. Many policies will deal with the consumption of alcohol with reference to events outside of the workplace. Employers should encourage responsible drinking, provide alternative options, and have a plan in place to handle any misconduct promptly. Irrational or spare of the moment decisions can be fatal and should be avoided.
Employers should be aware that, generally speaking, they can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at the Christmas party / event. It is therefore advisable that a number of managers are tasked with monitoring people’s behaviour and levels of alcohol intake in order to prevent any issues arising in the first place.
Like at other times of the year, employers should be mindful of harassment and bullying. Sexual harassment can take many different forms some less obvious than others, for example an ill thought secret Santa gift or a very close to the mark joke. There should be clear guidelines to prevent inappropriate gifts if Secret Santa is being arranged. Employers have a duty to prevent such behaviour and should have clear policies in place. It’s advisable to remind employees of the company’s expectations regarding respectful behaviour and to ensure there are mechanisms for reporting any incidents promptly.
With social media being part of many people’s daily lives, employers should encourage staff to exercise discretion when sharing photos or comments about the event on social media. Confidential or inappropriate content can have consequences for the business including reputational damage and damage to professional relationships. Staff should be aware that any confidential or inappropriate content posted may also lead to disciplinary action.
If you have a suspended employee, they may have the right to attend the Christmas party. Employers should give careful thought as to the reason why the individual was suspended. Is that reason sufficient to justify the employee from being instructed to remain away from the Christmas party?
It is also common for members of staff to be invited to another businesses Christmas parties, lunch or events. Employees who misbehave at other firm’s events have the potential to damage the reputation of both businesses and sometimes irreparably. Whilst an employer you may decide to bring subsequent disciplinary action, and which may or may not result in dismissal, it may fall well short of the damage caused. Standards of behaviour expected should be set in advance and outlining examples of unacceptable behaviour.
Taking the right steps now and having the right polices in place, effectively communicated to all staff is very much time well spent. It will allow everyone to enjoy the festive season without crossing legal boundaries.
For information on this topic, please contact our Employment team on 01708 511 000.