It’s that time of year again, when employers can show appreciation for the hard work of their employees by throwing a Christmas party.
Office parties can prove a headache to employers who want to ensure employees behave appropriately and turn up for work the next day, without dampening the Christmas spirit.
The company is likely to have the same legal responsibility for what happens during the Christmas party as it does in the office, so below is a guide for employers to ensure a hassle-free Christmas in the workplace.
- Health and Safety- assess the risks first to reduce the risk of accidents, and to help defend a claim should an accident happen. The employer may find that the easiest way to do this will be to resist the temptation to join in with the office merriment and drink little or no alcohol and keep an eye out for unacceptable or potentially dangerous behaviour. Management can lead by example by avoiding drinking to excess, and make it clear that bad behaviour will not be condoned or tolerated.
- Alcohol policy- employers may wish to limit the amount of alcohol available, and consider what the policy should be if employees are expected to return to work after the party. However, a complete ban on alcohol may not be the best option, as employers could run the risk of alienating or demoralising staff.
- Ensure employees get home safely, either by preventing drink drinking, or perhaps providing transport home at the end of the party.
- Harassment- any unwanted behaviour that violates the dignity of someone, or creates a hostile or intimidating environment can be viewed as harassment, and unfortunately the risk of harassment may increase with the presence of alcohol. Employers should circulate their equal opportunity policies to ensure that staff are fully appraised, before the party season begins. Robust discrimination procedures should be in place to deal with any harassment that does occur, whether directed at individuals or specific groups of people. The employer may also consider sending a statement that reminds staff of behaviour that is and is not acceptable, without sounding like too much of a killjoy. Staff could be reminded that they will still be representing the company when at the party, and that behaviour should reflect this.
- Social events organised by the employer will usually be viewed as an extension of work to which the usual rules on discrimination will apply. Employers will be responsible for any discriminatory acts carried out by an employee unless they can show that reasonable attempts were made to prevent the acts complained of. Any problems that do arise should be properly investigated and resolved as quickly as possible.
- Cater to the needs of all employees- for example, ensure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available and think about any adjustments that need to be made to cater for disabled staff. Managers should listen to any concerns that staff may have, ensuring that no one feels offended or left out. Special consideration may need to be given if employees have particular religious beliefs or dietary requirements.
- It is a seasonal trend during these cold damp months that absence increases. A reminder to staff in advance that unless there is a genuine reason for their absence it will be treated as unauthorised and may lead to disciplinary action. Organising the office party on a Friday may be one way of avoiding this problem.
For more information, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Further guidance can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk or by contacting the Labour Relations Agency on 02809032 1442.
Sian Fisher is an Information Officer with Citizens Advice.