At this time of the year, organisations of all sizes are gearing up for Christmas party festivities. Office Christmas parties can be a fantastic morale boost for employees, but employers need to be aware of potential risks, such as alcohol fuelled fights, discrimination and absenteeism.
Employers have responsibility for their staff members at any work-related Christmas function. When employee behaviour strays into misconduct, particularly where alcohol is involved, they are often the result of arguments or frustrations from incidents over the year.
They can escalate into fighting and far more serious incidents involving other people or property, accusations of sexual harassment and police involvement to name but a few.
Most parties and events are uneventful and enjoyable but when things go wrong, it can be embarrassing, time consuming and costly. Employers can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s conduct during a work party as it may be deemed to have taken place within the course of employment.
Many employees may also be using social media which can lead to reputational damage and potential data protection breaches if an employee posts a picture of a colleague or makes a discriminatory comment online. Social Media policies should make clear what the rules are.
Making clear expectations beforehand can avoid starting the New Year with grievances, claims and heading for the tribunal courts in 2020.
How Can Employers Prepare?
Remind staff that they represent the company and their behaviour on the night can affect the business’ reputation and standing in the community.
Consider sending out an email beforehand setting out the dress code and expectations of behaviour. Explain the impact of any misconduct may lead to formal disciplinary action.
Check your social media policy is in place – and remind staff that it is never a good idea to post messages or photos on social media platforms after drinking alcohol.
Poor employee behaviour at a client’s function has the potential to damage the client relationship, reputation of your business and potentially lose the client and any other clients that may also be present.
Tell employees that they are attending client functions as guests and as ambassadors of their employer. That is important to reinforce that everything they do reflects on you.
Also consider providing transport home. This may depend on the nature of the client relationship and your general awareness of it, e.g. a big client with many people from your business attending will give you more opportunity to put some rules in place and have someone keep an eye on proceedings.
Don’t discriminate and make sure the event is all inclusive - don’t forget to include those on maternity, paternity, sick leave and make sure there is disabled access as necessary.
Consider having some managers present at the party to keep an eye on things… Who will send the ‘reveller’ home via a taxi if required?
Don’t provide a ‘free’ bar or excessive drinks on the table.
Encourage collective responsibility, i.e. make employees responsible for their colleagues (particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and behaviour).
Finally, don’t kill the fun – remind employees it is fun, a celebration, and that employees who do not adhere to the policy or code of conduct on behaviour spoil the party for everyone.
If Something Goes Wrong …
If you are hosting a function which includes clients or third parties, the reputation of the employer can be at stake if the employees are identifiable as being part of the employer’s business.
Sexual harassment can constitute anything from an off-colour joke, or an ill thought out Secret Santa gift, to dance floor hi-jinks.
If someone is offended at the party, deal with it as quickly if possible.
If a more serious incident occurs, address it during working hours rather than trying to deal with it at the party.
Sexual harassment claims can follow works parties, in one case a claim was made as an employee was harassed on the way home and a successful claim was made as it was viewed as a continuation of harassment at the party.