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Date posted: 29th November 2021
The Christmas Party Season is on us once more… love them or loathe them, many of us will be going to a ‘bit of a do’ with our work colleagues this year. With that in mind, we have put together some advice to help you manage your Christmas parties this year.
For many, this Christmas is likely to be livelier and more exciting given the restrictions we all found ourselves under just 12 months ago. Another lockdown and the cancellation of nearly all Christmas parties last year has led to a pent up demand this year – and some of us are really looking forward to getting the chance to blow off some steam and have a good time!
However, there is a fine line between a happy, exciting atmosphere and the whole event descending into a drunken round of unacceptable behaviour. While many employees will use it to let their hair down completely harmlessly, the office party may represent trouble with a capital T for a small minority.
As an employer, you need to be proactive in ensuring acceptable conduct amongst your employees as you could find yourselves vicariously liable for their actions if those actions are deemed to have been committed “in the course of their employment“, whether or not they were done with either your knowledge or approval.
What is vicarious liability?
Employers can find themselves vicariously liable in either negligence or under discrimination legislation for acts that they may consider to be completely outside their responsibility, such as Christmas parties and other work-related social events.
If a social event can genuinely be classed as an extension of employment, you might find that you are held vicariously liable for either acts of discrimination or acts of negligence committed by your employees whilst at the event. Social events could be Christmas parties, client functions, work conferences and work-organised social events such as leaving parties.
It would probably not cover an incident when a couple of colleagues met up informally with other friends for a beer at the weekend; neither would it cover a chance meeting in the street between two employees that ended in a fight.
However, should something happen at a Christmas party, such as a fight or inappropriate behaviour, whether the event was during working hours or not, it is likely that an employment tribunal will consider that is it was an event that took place “in the course of employment”.
The employer’s defence
You should be aware of the risk of liability for discrimination on any of the protected grounds, namely, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
The key is to take sufficient steps to minimise the risk of being held vicariously liable. You can no longer expect not to face the consequences of occurrences at the Christmas party of offensive jokes, fighting or other unacceptable behaviour. You need to be proactive to prevent these types of incidents from happening, considering the fact that many employees – especially if they have had a few drinks – are likely to be unconcerned about the consequences of their behaviour.
Policy on conduct at work-related social events
In advance of your Christmas party, you should provide clear written guidelines to your employees to set out the standard of behaviour you expect of them at such events. A short policy will be useful for this purpose or in its absence, an email setting out what behaviour would be considered inappropriate, unacceptable and what the disciplinary penalties would be for breach of the rules.
Although it is probably unreasonable to expect your employees at a Christmas party to remain completely sober, you should make it clear that alcohol should be consumed in moderation and that the employees should behave in an appropriate and responsible manner. Unacceptable behaviour that might result in them getting into trouble would include excessive drunkenness, the use of illegal drugs, unlawful or inappropriate harassment, violence, serious verbal abuse, or assault of either another employee or a third party such as a guest or a member of the waiting or bar staff.
You should also remind your employees that if they are going to drive home after the party, they should ensure they are well within the legal limits for driving. If you have any concerns about an employee’s ability to safely drive home, consider getting them transported rather than let them take the risk of having, or causing, an accident. A gentle reminder pre-event to be cautious and to take it easy on the alcohol is a prudent measure.
Christmas is a great time to let your hair down and have a drink with your colleagues. But we’ve all known parties that have got out of hand. Too much to drink can result in a complete loss of inhibition and ultimately doing/saying things that are instantly regrettable. Being sick in the middle of the dance floor is not a career-enhancing act!
Also, any rule that says ‘what happens at the Christmas party, stays at the Christmas party is nonsense as what happens at the Christmas party can have repercussions. Too much alcohol consumed that leads to inappropriate conversations or behaviours can be incredibly detrimental to working relationships as well as the reputation of the business.
No Excuses for Poor Behaviour
The mixture of alcohol and Christmas spirit can lead to some people getting ‘carried away’ which is especially difficult when it comes to physical contact. Making unwanted and inappropriate advances towards colleagues or others, such as waiting or bar staff, often triggered by too much alcohol consumption, can result in grievances being raised and disciplinary actions being taken. The Christmas party is supposed to be a fun experience for everyone, and this type of behaviour can ruin the experience for everyone.
If during the event you notice any sign of poor behaviour at the party, you should consider removing the individual from the situation and assess as to whether or not they are best to leave the party altogether.
Avoid your phone as much as you can
Aside from just being polite and being good company, avoiding the use of your phone too much at a Christmas party results in a much better atmosphere. If the boss is too nervous to relax and let their hair down in case someone snaps a photo of them doing drunk karaoke, then the party may end up feeling a little bit stiff and awkward.
Thinking clearly about what you post on social media is also important. Try to remember that everyone at the party is still representing the business and should be aware of posting anything that could be harmful to your business’ reputation.
It is important to remember the importance of just being kind.
Try to talk to everyone. Whether you are a big or small organisation, try to talk to people you don’t usually engage with in any form of social setting, make people feel included and part of the party.
No matter what you think of the people that you work alongside, their professional performance, or any frustrating habits, the Christmas party is not the place to tell them all about it.
As we have already mentioned, too much alcohol can leave people with no filter so be considerate of people’s feelings. The party is supposed to be fun, don’t be responsible for creating a toxic atmosphere as upset at the Christmas party is likely to spill over into the working environment, which once again, can be detrimental to the business as a whole.
Leave the mistletoe at home and be respectful to those around you this year!
For more support and guidance regarding how to make your Christmas party go with a swing and not with a crash, speak to our skilled HR professionals at Kingswood Group. Call us on 01245 204450 or email us at email@example.com today.
Let us help you and your team have a wonderful Christmas time!
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