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Office Christmas Parties: How to Avoid More Than a Hangover

December 12, 2022

It’s that time of year again when mulled wine is flowing and the mood is merry. We have all been looking forward to a proper knees-up up post covid but how can an employer balance their employees having a good end-of-year bash without crossing the line?  

In this article, we tackle tips and tricks to having a Christmas party without making it to the naughty list. From where a business is liable, to setting down ground rules, our employment law experts weigh in.  

Christmas Parties: Who’s Liable?

It’s important that employers are aware that even if the office party isn’t happening at the office, it will almost certainly be classed as an extension of the workplace. With that in mind, anything that happens is likely to be viewed as happening in the course of your staff’s duties. As a result, you as the employer will be liable for that behaviour. So how can you avoid something worse than a hangover? We have a few top tips which might help.

Prevention is better than cure  

Make it clear that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and so whilst everyone is there to enjoy themselves, they should still be mindful of their actions and the standard of behaviour expected.  

  • Remind employees of the anti-discriminatory and sexual harassment policies and where these can be found. Make sure employees are aware that any behaviour of this kind will not be tolerated and may have serious consequences.
  • If possible, speak to staff beforehand and explain what will and will not be viewed as acceptable behaviour.
  • Employers are at a greater risk if inappropriate behaviour is by more senior staff members, so do speak to employees in managerial positions and remind them that they have a responsibility to behave appropriately and to set an example for more junior staff.
  • If employees would like to take the festivities on to another venue, make sure they are aware that whilst they are free to party into the night, this is not endorsed or funded by the business. This could help the business argue against any possible claims of vicarious liability.

Staff absences  

Unsurprisingly, there is often an increase in staff absences the day after the Christmas party. For the benefit of a few sore heads, it’s helpful to make your expectations of your employees clear. To avoid hangover heavy sick days, incentives such as offering a free breakfast, the morning off, or a later start time is a great way to encourage employees to get themselves (and their hangover) to the office. Alternatively, if you’re feeling the Christmas spirit, you can close the office the following day.

Dos and Don’ts

So, what should you encourage your team to do? And which things are no-go's?

  • Do encourage staff to relax and have a good time. It’s Christmas after all!
  • Do consider how much alcohol is being served and try to encourage responsible drinking where possible.
  • Do send an employee home if their behaviour requires it (this might mitigate potential claims).
  • Don’t encourage inappropriate behaviour.
  • Do ask senior staff to set the tone.

Dealing with the hangover

Even employers who have done their best to avoid issues can find themselves facing reports of inappropriate behaviour. So what should you do if that happens?  

  • Make sure employees are aware of the complaint/grievance procedure. Take complaints or grievances seriously (regardless of the amount of alcohol consumption) and investigate them properly.  
  • Deal with complaints/grievances promptly and do not unreasonably delay investigations.  
  • Be consistent in how you deal with all complaints/grievances – this will set the tone for dealing with any inappropriate behaviour in the future.  
  • If in doubt, seek legal advice.  

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