How to stop Christmas cheer turning into a New Year employment tribunal

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Dawn Dickson on how to ensure a stress free Christmas party that doesn’t get your charity into hot water

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5th December 2018 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

It’s that time of year when employers may want to reward their staff with a celebration, but don’t want to wake up with a HR headache.

Following a few simple steps can ensure that your organisation enjoys a morale boosting Christmas rather than one that sees it starting 2019 with an employment law issue to grapple with. 

If a social event can be classed as an extension of employment, which will be the case for the office Christmas party, then an employer may find that it is liable for the actions of its employees at the event. With brand reputation critical it’s best practice to tell your employees in advance exactly what is expected of them at the Christmas party, both in terms of their conduct at the event and the arrangements before and after it.

Dawn Dickson

Dawn Dickson

Excessive consumption of alcohol at workplace social events is the cause of many employment tribunal claims each year, a lot of which involve one employee claiming they have been harassed by another

Whilst an employer will have recourse to a disciplinary process in the event of misconduct at the Christmas party, it is far better to have been clear with employees about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable in advance and the consequences for failure to adhere to this. That way, not only does the organisation have good prospects of avoiding difficult behaviour, it is also best placed to do something about it should it occur.

Excessive consumption of alcohol at workplace social events is the cause of many employment tribunal claims each year, a lot of which involve one employee claiming they have been harassed by another. Harassment is unwanted conduct creating an intimidating or offensive environment for your employees and Christmas parties are risk areas in terms of such behaviour. The best advice is to tackle this in advance by clearly reminding your employees what you expect. This doesn’t have to be overly formal, but a discussion should take place.

In speaking with your employees, you should cover not only consumption of alcohol and behaviour, but also whether there will be any leeway in terms of start times and work rate the following day. If not, both you and your employees should make arrangements to ensure the next days’ workloads are covered. Likewise if your Christmas event takes place during the day clarity on what is expected in relation to that working time is essential – a discussion in advance is key.

While it's hard to stop employees over-indulging, limiting the amount of alcohol at the party, providing non-alcoholic options and supplying enough food can all help minimise the risk. It's also advisable to think carefully about making the event as inclusive as possible, so that everyone can enjoy it. Employers need to be sensitive to employees who don't drink alcohol or don't eat certain foods, and it's always a good idea to brief any speakers in advance to ensure that their material is suitable and won't cause offence. This again is something an employer could be liable for, and so the element of surprise should be avoided.

Dawn Dickson is an employment partner at Eversheds Sutherland