Look Out – it’s party time!

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The festive season is fast approaching and many businesses will be arranging Christmas parties for staff. These events are great for building morale and celebrating the year’s successes, but ….

“What happens at the Christmas party will not necessarily stay at the Christmas party – sometimes with disastrous consequences!”

Socialising at these events, often with the provision of unlimited alcohol, can lead staff to behave in ways that they would ordinarily regret. This can cause serious issues, both for employees and employers, so it is important to understand the risks and what you can do to mitigate them ahead of party time.

In this article, we explain some of the key things employers and employees need to know when it comes to employment law for work events. We also have some top tips for avoiding any HR hangovers following staff parties.

Need help with any aspect of employment law? Please contact Richard Gvero who will be happy to advise.

Key points for employers to know

  • You will still have legal obligations to your employees at office parties, even though you are outside of working hours.
  • Employers may be liable for employee misdeeds because they are in a work setting, albeit a sociable one.
  • Employers should avoid discrimination or harassment traps such as insisting on attendance at Christmas parties (forgetting that Christmas is a Christian celebration) or not bearing in mind dietary requirements of religious groups.

Key points for employees to know

  • A work event is likely to be regarded as an extension of the workplace, so disciplinary action can result from any breach of the terms of your employment, as well as any issues such as harassment. This can come as a shock to those employees who are likely to view such parties as purely social.
  • If the misconduct is serious e.g. violence or abusive behaviour, dismissal can result.

Top tips to avoid a HR hangover from a work party

Have a Christmas party policy in place

I know it’s “Bah humbug” but increasingly Christmas party policies are put in place setting out the parameters of acceptable behaviour, including what can and cannot be communicated on social media; these policies should be taken seriously.

Employers should consult an employment law specialist to make sure that they have a suitable policy in place, then ensure that this is appropriately communicated to all employees.

Consider the needs and preferences of all employees

Make sure to invite everyone, including those on parental leave and sick leave (where appropriate) while making it clear that there is no obligation to attend.

Your party should be accessible to every employee, taking into consideration issues such as disabilities and dietary requirements. This approach can help to avoid any risk of employees feeling discriminated against.

Keep an eye on alcohol consumption

While drinking is, of course, a normal part of work events for many people, it is also one of the biggest contributors to problematic behaviours. While an employer may want to treat their employees with free alcohol, this can increase the risk of unsafe levels of drinking.

To combat this, some employers are now choosing to get rid of free bars at work events entirely, while others limit the amount of money ‘behind the bar’ or the number of drinks each employee can have. It may also be worth considering at least one senior employee refraining from drinking, so there is someone in a position of authority to soberly monitor the situation and take action if there are any concerns about an individual’s drinking and/or their behaviour.

Remember, a work event is an extension of work, so all the usual rules apply

In short, we must not forget that our obligations as employers and employees are not confined to the walls of the office and are certainly not suspended when we are in party mode.

So, whilst it is indeed the season to be jolly, do not ignore the hazards!

Speak to us about your requirements

Whether you need help drafting an office party policy or are looking for assistance with resolving an issue that has come up at a work event, our highly experienced Employment Law team are here to help.

To discuss how we can help with any employment law issues, contact Richard Gvero who will be happy to advise.

Find out more about our Employment Law Packages, Employment Law Health Check, HR and Employment Law Training and the Longmores Employer Assistance Package (LEAP) with optional insurance to protect you against the costs of employment tribunals, legal fees, settlements and financial awards in the event of a dispute.

Please note: the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.