Depending on which supermarket you shop in, Christmas is almost here and we're not even in December! As much as Christmas Day and turkey are inevitable, so is the office Christmas party. Of course, you'll be taking your staff out for a good old knees up and you may also be catching up with and entertaining your loyal clients. But, as with most things in life, there are employment law implications… So, without wishing to dampen the impending festive cheer (bah humbug!), it is worth remembering the following:
- Employers are liable for the acts of it’s employees during the ‘course of employment’. The office Christmas party or a client event are both likely to be considered to be within the course of employment.
- Ensure that people know what standards of behaviour are expected of them before the event takes place. It's a good idea to get a policy relating to social/work events in place anyway. Make sure it deals with things such as consumption of alcohol, use of drugs, violence or fighting (yep - fighting!). There is nothing wrong with stating that offences will be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure and may result in dismissal. Ensure that everyone is aware of the policy beforehand.
- Make sure that everyone feels included. Consider whether the venue or meal choices impact upon anybody. Remember that Christmas is a religious festival too and not everyone approaches it in the same way. Exclusion of individuals can create resentment which often only comes out in grievances further down the line.
- Minimise the risk of discrimination claims. Harassment is a form of discrimination. Declarations of undying love are not unusual at the Christmas party (so I am told!) but they are not always well received. What may be a joke to one person, is not a joke to another. Suggestive comments or lewd behaviour may do more than simply offend and might amount to sex discrimination.
- You still owe a duty a care even at Christmas. A free bar is always appreciated but consider limiting the number of drinks for each person in order to avoid obvious problems. Arrange for managers (preferably sober) to oversee matters. Make arrangements to send home people who have had too much to drink.
- Don’t allow an employee to drive home if you know it is not safe for them to do so. Some employers arrange safe transport home for the employee or pay for a taxi.
- It is not unusual for individuals to be absent from work the day after a Christmas party. If they simply fail to turn up, their absence will be unauthorised and can be dealt with under your disciplinary procedure. However, it is more probable that the employee is likely to phone in sick than simply not attend work. If you do suspect that the employee is not genuinely sick, you will need firm evidence of that before considering it a disciplinary issue. Mere suspicion will not be enough to justify formal action.
- If you do take disciplinary action for any reason connected to the celebrations, you must ensure that you act consistently in each individual case.
- Finally, remember to enjoy yourself too!
Nick Wilson is responsible for the employment law service at Crooks Commercial Solicitors Limited, a specialist commercial law firm with experience in many sectors including recruitment. Contact Nick on 01924 669159, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ccs-law.co.uk.