ACEVO Guest Blog – “It’s Christmas!” – How to Avoid the Perils of the Christmas Party Season

Elizabeth Judson, Ellis Whittam
Elizabeth Judson, Ellis Whittam

How often do we hear Noddy Holder screaming “It’s Christmas!” at this time of year? Whether you inwardly groan or delight in this message, the festive season can throw up all sorts of problems for unwary employers.

Despite the economic difficulties many businesses are still experiencing, it is a rare organisation that does not recognise some festival celebration at this time of year, whether it is a lunch at the nearest pub, a few drinks after work, or the full on Christmas Party. All of these can present problems for unwary employers. So at the risk of turning into Scrooge, here are some tips to try and minimise the risk of claims arising in the New Year.

Leading by example is key, and so therefore is ensuring that you make your managers and senior staff aware that this is still a work-related activity and they must behave appropriately

One of the key issues at this time of year is alcohol, whether that is employees over-doing it the night before and coming into work bleary-eyed with a strong whiff of “booze” on the breath or keeling over at the works do. So how do you guard against such over-indulgence? First of all, you need to remember that all employers owe all employees a duty of care.

If you are the one hosting the festivities where alcohol is provided, you need to make it clear to all employees beforehand that they are responsible for ensuring they drink in moderation. Remember that “moderation” to some people may be forgoing their third bottle of wine, so you will need to spell out that whilst you want employees to enjoy themselves this does not mean drinking to excess, getting drunk, falling over, fighting or harassing anyone. It is also a good idea to remind people that if they are drinking, they must not drink and drive and that they must ensure they are fit to drive the next day if the next day is a working day.

One of the other headaches for employers is workplace relationships developing into something more than just a quick jig around the dance floor. Dealing with the fallout the next day, week or month, if the relationship proves to be short lived, can be challenging. Whilst you cannot stop employees choosing who they want to kiss under the mistletoe it is important that employees understand that any kind of harassment is forbidden. If you have an Equal Opportunities or Dignity at Work Policy remind them that it still applies even at work-related parties and activities, including a work-organised trip for a meal after work.

Of course, employees may get mixed messages if they read your warning memo but then see their manager or the owner of the business ignoring the message themselves. Leading by example is key, and so therefore is ensuring that you make your managers and senior staff aware that this is still a work-related activity and they must behave appropriately. It is a good idea to have someone keeping an eye on things and taking overall responsibility for the event, just in case they need to step in and prevent matters from escalating, mince pies from being thrown and staggering people trying to get into the driving seat.

For a free initial advice call – members please contact 0845 226 8393, ask for the Partnerships Legal Team and quote your ACEVO membership number.

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