It’s still November, so for many it may still seem too early to be thinking about Christmas! However, whether you’re in the Christmas spirit or not, the party season is fast approaching for businesses everywhere.
Nobody wants to be a party pooper, but we know that sometimes work Christmas parties can lead to more problems than just a hangover.
Here at Deminos, we have put together this handy guide so you can ensure that your festivities are memorable for all the right reasons.
Before the party…
In the lead up to a Christmas party or any other social event, it’s advisable to set clear standards and advise employees on the type of behaviours that will not be tolerated at social events. A work event is likely to be regarded as an ‘extension of the workplace’ so the usual rules on liability in work would apply.
Employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees – even if the event is held off site and out of normal working hours. The Equality Act 2010 offers protection from sexual harassment and also extends to unwanted conduct on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.
However, employers will have the ‘statutory defence’ to a harassment claim if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent harassment. Having an up-to-date policy on harassment and ensuring that all employees are aware of it will help with demonstrating this defence, as will previous examples of it being enforced.
Use the opportunity to remind employees in advance that the Christmas party is an extension of their normal working environment and any misconduct will be dealt with as if it had occurred during normal working hours.
You should also ensure that these standards are applied to other social events, e.g. reminding everyone of what is and is not acceptable.
You should also make it clear to all that disciplinary action will be taken against any employee who is late or fails to turn up the day after the party. Employees need to be informed that this is a possibility in the disciplinary policy. If you want to deduct wages from an employee’s pay for turning up late, the right to make deductions from wages for unauthorised absence needs to be included in the employment contract.
One of our Deminos advisors successfully defended a deduction claim for a vehicle excess after a party, where a client’s employee decided to use the van roof as a ‘bouncy castle’ (shortly before resigning). Another investigation into the cracked glass on the photocopier was resolved without an ID parade by use of alarm logs, and the service engineer was good enough to repair the glass for free.
Where an employee does not attend work due to illness, the employer should follow its attendance management policy and procedures.
During the party…
It is good practice for employers to designate responsibility for supervising work-related social events to specific managers. There should be guidelines on how to deal with drunk or disorderly employees and other unacceptable standards of behaviour. Obviously this nominated group will need to maintain the standards, so it’s advisable that they stay sober. For them and other non-drinkers ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available.
If you are providing free drinks for employees, don’t be surprised if the result is excessive alcohol intake. Maybe limit the amount of free alcohol available and also offer low-alcohol alternatives and soft drinks.
After the party…
Employers have a duty of care to employees, so consideration should be given as to how everyone will get home after work-related social events. You should issue advice in advance of an event about not drinking and driving, and encourage employees to think about travel arrangements before the event. Employers could provide a mini-bus/coach service, or give details for local taxi firms.
You need to ensure that managers have the necessary skills to deal with those employees who fail to come into work or turn up late the day after the Christmas party. Managers will need to act consistently and ensure that a fair process is applied. Any disciplinary action should be in line with the organisation’s disciplinary procedure.
Points to remember…
Remember, employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by employees.
Be clear about what standards of behaviour are unacceptable in advance of the party.
Check that your policies and contractual clauses are up to date and ensure employees are aware of them.
Have some nominated managers available to supervise the event.
Consider limiting the amount of free alcohol available and ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available as alternatives.
Consider transport options for after the event.
Deal consistently and fairly with any issues arising from the event.