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Top tips for employers this festive season

View profile for Reyhana Koser
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The festive season is upon us and Christmas parties are in full swing. 

If you have not already done so, now is the time for employers to issue a gentle reminder to their staff conveying the message that the same rules that apply in the workplace still apply at a Christmas work event. This reminder will assist the employer in minimising the legal risks it could be faced with when alcohol and the festive spirit mix.

It is a long established legal principle that whether the social event takes place in the office or not, it will be considered to be an extension of the workplace and employers can be held vicariously liable for the events that unfold during the evening. Examples include where promises have been made which are later not kept, managers making their opinions known about staff by bad-mouthing them or even physically assaulting them and a member of staff making inappropriate remarks or even worse unwanted advances towards another.

As nobody wants to return to an office where the mood has been compromised by over-exuberant behaviour it is wise for employers to prepare well in advance by taking the following steps:

  • Issue a statement to all staff explaining what represents acceptable behaviour at Christmas work events and that inappropriate and/or unwanted conduct will be dealt with in the same way it would as if it took place during work hours. 
  • Remind all staff to familiarise themselves with work policies to ensure they understand what is acceptable behaviour.  These policies include the disciplinary, alcohol/drugs, health and safety, bullying and harassment, dignity at work and social media policies.
  • Carry out a risk assessment of the venue to ensure that there are no health and safety hazards.
  • Make staff aware that excessive alcohol consumption and/or drug use will not be tolerated and remind them of the possible sanctions if staff are in breach of these rules. 
  • If there is provision of a free bar, this could encourage staff to drink excessively resulting in further risks.  Due to this risk consider limiting free alcohol to staff up to a certain amount. It will also help if non-alcoholic drinks are available as well as plenty of food.
  • In order to avoid discrimination claims, it is important to cater for all requirements such as vegetarians or those who do not consume certain foods because of their religious beliefs.  It will also be considered prudent to invite every member of staff to the event to include those taking family friendly leave and those absent due to sickness. 
  • If an after-dinner speaker or entertainer has been organised take the time to brief the speaker beforehand to make sure that their material does not offend anyone or even worse discriminate against anyone because of particular protected characteristic.
  • Over-indulgence at the office party can also lead to staff calling in sick or arriving late for work the following day. Therefore consider making it clear in advance that disciplinary action will be taken if this happens. This is yet another reason to limit the amount of free or subsidised celebratory drinks so that staff do not attempt to attend work the next day whilst still under the influence of alcohol. 
  • Give some thought to how staff will get home safely especially if a free bar has been provided.  The following options can be made available beforehand: free transport such as an organised minibus, checking the time of the last trains home and providing contact numbers for local taxi firms.
  • Advise managers not to discuss career promotions, pay increases or other work promises with staff as these can end up being misinterpreted.
  • Warn staff that they should not place material on social media sites which would adversely affect the reputation of the employer or that breaches its bullying and harassment procedures and make clear that such conduct may result in disciplinary action.
  • And finally, in the event that an incident has occurred and a complaint has been made, deal with it fairly and quickly regardless of whether the incident occurred at a formal work event or an after-party. Never dismiss a complaint as ‘nothing’ or ‘just banter’. Investigations should be conducted professionally and thoroughly – failure to do so could result in an additional complaint against the company for discrimination.

At Talbots we can assist employers with all of their employment needs, including advising on and dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues like the ones that can arise above. If you would like to discuss any issues, please contact our Employment Law Solicitor Reyhana Koser on 01384 445885.

From everyone here at Talbots, we hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!