The Office Christmas Party 2022
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” and after two years of cancelled, delayed, modified or even online staff Christmas parties, it is time to relax, eat, drink and celebrate Christmas once more. Or is it?
James Leo, Head of Employment Law at The Wilkes Partnership highlights some useful tips for employers hosting parties this year in addition to the usual pitfalls to be avoided.
In terms of preparing for the event itself and to cater for all employees, James says: “Not everyone looks forward to the work Christmas party and it goes without saying that employees should not be pressured into coming to the office party.”
It is important to remember that employment laws apply even where a party takes place off work premises and outside working hours. Employers could be liable for acts of discrimination, harassment, assault or other unwanted conduct by employees.
Whilst most parties pass with no more than a dodgy dance move or two and a fair share of hangovers, employers should bear in mind some simple measures to help the event pass without incident and reduce the potential risk.
Here are some useful tips:
- Some employees do not look forward to or cannot attend the Christmas party. Are there more inclusive ways the employer could say thank you to their staff e.g. Christmas gifts for those unable to attend?
- Christmas parties are a great way to say thank you to employees for their work throughout the year – free food and drinks (alcoholic or not) are welcomed by most. However, employers need to be mindful to avoid allegations of discrimination:
- Make sure the venue itself is accessible for disabled staff and that staff can get there and back safely.
- Catering to different dietary requirements that takes into account different religious/philosophical beliefs.
- Make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available.
- No employer wants to be accused of being The Grinch but parties can be expensive during these difficult financial times. Cutting back may be seen by some as sensible but by others as being a little mean. On the other hand, a lavish party may be seen as generous by some or insensitive by others whose households may be struggling with the increasing costs of living.
- This year may be more important as staff have been unable to let their hair down properly for such a long time but one too many at the free bar and getting carried away could leave participants with more than just a sore head. Employers should remind employees prior to the party that they are representing the organisation and set the boundaries in terms of what are acceptable/unacceptable standards of behaviour. Employers should make clear that misconduct at the party will be deemed to be misconduct at work.
- Employers may be liable for incidents of harassment that take place at work related social events and could face employment tribunal claims. There are however simple steps an employer can take to mitigate this risk.
- There’s no harm, and indeed every benefit, in employers reminding employees of the need to behave and treat each other with respect.
- An up-to-date harassment policy, which is brought to the attention of all staff, will also help to reduce the risk of harassment occurring and go some way to protect the employer.
- Social media – a more recent development but ask staff to be aware of social media policies and to think before posting on social media. Your customers, clients or wider professional community may see unflattering posts and form a negative view of your organisation.
- Finally there comes the morning after the night before. Where the Christmas party takes place on a working night, there is always the possibility that employees will “pull a sickie” the next day as a result of over-exuberance. It is a good idea to warn staff in advance that unauthorised absence the day after the Christmas party may result in disciplinary action. To mitigate this risk, employers could encourage employees to book annual leave, subject to maintaining adequate staff levels.
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.