Almost two years on from when the World Health Organization (WHO) were first alerted to a novel new Coronavirus we now know all too well as COVID-19, we are still being impacted in our day-to-day lives and that includes the traditional office Christmas party. Usually, this marks an eagerly anticipated date in the diary for the majority of workplaces and was sorely missed last year.
Reports suggest that office Christmas party bookings are still largely going ahead despite concerns over the new Omicron variant. However, employers are adopting a cautious approach and where possible, scaling back the festivities or in some cases, opting not to have them at all.
Sarah Begley, Solicitor at The Wilkes Partnership highlights some useful tips for employers hosting parties this year.
Sarah says: “Probably two of the key considerations for employers will be the location and the date. It is prudent to undertake a risk assessment in respect of potential party venues and canvass opinion amongst your staff in respect of the timing of the party. Location wise, and particularly for the larger scale events, ensuring sufficient room and ventilation will be of paramount importance to hopefully provide a Covid-secure environment. In terms of when to host the party, in light of the new isolation requirements, it is sensible to host parties in good time before Christmas, or even consider January as an option”.
Further options could be hosting a party remotely or within the workplace itself and downscaling on the size. There could be more team celebrations, effectively creating Covid ‘bubbles’ making it a more intimate, seated affair as opposed to encouraging dancing.
In terms of preparing for the event itself and to cater for cautious and vulnerable employees, Sarah comments: “It goes without saying that employees should not be pressured into coming to the office Christmas party this year or penalised in any way for opting not to. To reassure staff and to be satisfied that any risk is kept to a minimum, employers could request those attending take a lateral flow test (LFT) ahead of the party and upload the results. Similarly, temperature checks could be undertaken on the door.”
Covid passes which are necessary for some travel destinations and are starting to be introduced for large-scale exhibition events is another possibility but Sarah recommends proceeding with caution.
“This could lead to some unvaccinated or part-vaccinated staff being excluded and it could be for reasons outside their control, some staff may not have had two vaccines yet; some may only have had one. Equally, while someone may be exempt for medical reasons, opting not to have the vaccine for religious or philosophical belief reasons would not show up on the pass. This could give rise to a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010 for less favourable treatment if the person in question is excluded from the venue.”
Ultimately the Christmas party is about rewarding and thanking your staff for their efforts over the preceding year. And there is no doubt that it has been a difficult year for many people. Following the basic steps above in advance of the party will only serve to enhance everyone’s enjoyment of it.