It is that time of year again – when employees are looking forward to ‘letting their hair down’ at the annual Christmas party, and employment lawyers are recounting tales of woe from the ghosts of Christmas parties past.
Christmas parties can be beneficial in boosting morale and bringing staff together in a more social setting; however, they are legally considered to be an extension of the normal work environment. Employers should remind staff that inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with in the same way that it is during working hours.
The majority of grievances, disciplinary action and Employment Tribunal claims arising from Christmas parties stem from physical violence, threatening behaviour, sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of discrimination. Insulting the boss also features prominently.
Employers can take a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of grievances and claims:-
- Ensure that your equal opportunities, bullying and harassment policies are up to date. If not, consider having them reviewed. Remember that these policies still apply at the office party – consider bringing them to the attention of employees shortly before the party and reminding everyone that whilst you want everyone to have a good time, certain standards of behaviour are expected.
- Employers should not insist that all staff attend the Christmas party, but should remember to invite employees who may be away from the office on absences such as sick leave, maternity leave or secondment.
- If your employees attend parties organised by clients or customers, ensure they are aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them, and that they are attending as a representative of the employer.
- Ensure that all of your staff are aware that disciplinary action could be taken if they fail to turn up to work due to a hangover, or if they return back to the office intoxicated after a lunch party or, indeed, the day after the Christmas Party.
- Limit the amount of free alcohol and ensure that soft drinks are readily available.
- Do not discuss contractual matters such as salary, performance or possible promotions with staff at the Christmas party.
We are not suggesting that you should cancel your Christmas parties, and we hope you have a great time; however, should you receive any complaints or grievances following a Christmas Party, it is important that you follow your discipline and grievance procedures and comply with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures.
If you have any comments or queries please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Adrian Maitra, or Tom Scaife on 01228 552600. Alternatively, email one of the team at HR@baineswilson.co.uk.
09 December 2011