Christmas workplace parties are a great way of staff coming together to celebrate the festive season. A well organised Christmas Party can boost workforce morale and acknowledge the hard work/commitment that the staff has provided over the preceding year.

However employee conduct at Christmas parties can sometimes turn what should be the most wonderful time into a great headache for Employers over and above the next day hangovers. This note sets out some steps Employers can take to prevent that occurring.

Legal Claims & Vicarious Liability

Even if the Christmas party isn’t directly arranged by the Organisation, there are circumstances where the employer will remain vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. Employers are likely to be vicariously liable for acts of unlawful discrimination and/or negligence committed by employees at work related social events. Indeed, there has been many costly legal claims against employers arising out of the party season.

Alcohol fuelled outbursts or fallouts may also find their way back into the workplace with the employer having to take appropriate steps to deal with them. Loose tongues and increased confidence may result in employees propositioning colleagues, discussing performance issues or company secrets or telling the Manager or colleague exactly what they think of them.

However, if the employer can show it took such steps that were reasonably practicable to prevent acts of unlawful discrimination occurring this will provide a defence against any unlawful discrimination claim. One such step is to issue a reminder before the social event telling employees of the standards of behaviour that are expected. Some other steps that can be taken are set out below.

Proper Planning

Stopping employees who want to overindulge in alcohol at the Christmas party might be very difficult but with proper planning employers might be able to minimize the chances of it occurring. For example, limiting the amount of free alcohol that is provided and/or ensuring that sufficient amount of non-alcohol supply drinks and food, at appropriate times.

Inclusive event

Employers should also consider how best to make the Christmas party as inclusive as possible, being sensitive to employees who do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods. This will ensure that employees with different religious beliefs / faiths do not feel excluded or isolated during the festive period. This consideration should also extend to any entertainment that the employer organises, or is arranged by the venue, so that it is suitable and does not cause offence.

Communicate about behaviour expected

In advance of any office party or work related social event, employers should communicate to all employees about the standard of behaviour expected. This can be done in a way that hopefully won’t dampen the spirit and need not be more than a simple reminder that ‘the Company’s normal standards under the Dignity at Work and Equal Opportunity Policies will continue to apply and that breaches, even if influenced by alcohol’, will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action. Unacceptable behaviour that might result in gross misconduct may include excessive drunkenness, use of illegal drugs, unlawful harassment, and violence/assault of a colleague or a member of the waiting/bar staff.

Such a communication may remind staff that at all times their behaviour should be appropriate, responsible and importantly respectful towards their colleagues.

Management supervision

Employers could consider whether to appoint two or three managers to oversee/supervise employee behaviour at the event and to ensure that alcohol intake does not become excessive or a potential cause for concern. These managers may well need to ask employees to leave the party should their behaviour fall below the standard expected. Staff should be informed in advance of the identity of these managers and told that if they have any concerns during the party that they should report them to them.

Christmas Party: Next Day

The effects of the Christmas party may also continue into the next day. Employees may still be disciplined in accordance with the normal company rules if they:
• do not attend work the next day;
• are late for work;
• are unfit for work due to alcohol/ drugs.

Employees who drive company cars should also be reminded of the consequences of driving in excess of the legal limit the next day.

So hopefully following this guidance your Christmas parties will be remembered for all the right reasons.