‘Tis the Season: Office Christmas Parties: The Dos and Don’ts

Mon 4th Dec 2023

After a brief Government-imposed (though apparently not observed) lull during the Covid years, the office Christmas party scene is back with vengeance – hooray!

Venues are booked, nut-free salty snacks are ordered and secret Santa names are being pulled out of the hat – ‘no, you can’t put that person’s name back’!

In the new world of remote working, Christmas parties offer a rare opportunity for teams to come together, for leaders to thank staff for their hard work and to generally remind ourselves that we actually like the people we work with (well, most of them).

However, whilst novelty Christmas jumpers and dubious renditions of the classic Xmas hits are essential components of office festive cheer, there are other elements of the party scene that every business could do without. For the HR teams involved, the prospect of a dry January spent dealing with disciplinaries, health and safety investigations, and sexual harassment complaints, rather takes the edge off the scene.

Some simple dos and don’ts are below.

  • Plan ahead

Ensure the arrangements for the location and timing of the party are inclusive. Don’t forget to invite employees on various forms of family leave. Time the event so that everyone is able to attend. Make sure the venue is accessible for disabled employees. Ensure that employees with specific dietary requirements are catered for. Also, if you choose a remote location or a late finish, think about how you will get everyone home safely.

  • Set the tone

Nothing kills the party vibe more than an email from the Head of HR two hours before the event reminding everyone to behave themselves. However, a well-crafted message to all staff encouraging (beware of compelling) them to attend, explaining the opportunity the event presents to come together and enjoy each other’s company and making it clear that this is a work event, will help to set the right tone. Similarly, having well drafted policies (including social media policies) in place before the season gets underway, will help limit unacceptable behaviour.

  • Alcohol

Consider whether the choice of venue or the service of alcohol acts as a deterrent to potential attendees. For many people, a party without booze simply isn’t a party. However, an increasing number of people don’t drink and don’t want, or can’t, be around those who do. Look at your workforce. Is there value to a blended approach – an activity followed by drinks for those who wish to attend perhaps? Talk to your staff about what they want to do. Limiting alcohol or imposing a curfew may have the additional benefit of limiting late night errors of judgment.

  • Beware the after party!

The case law is clear, just because it’s offsite or even after the offsite event, does not mean that the employer cannot be held vicariously liable for the drunken antics of its senior leaders.

  • Post party complaints

Try and deal with any complaints promptly. Letting things drag on into January or February rarely improves the situation. Beware ‘banter’ – Employment Tribunals increasingly see this term as harassment simply by another name.

For help and advice on this topic or related issues, please contact any member of SA Law’s Employment Team.

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