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Legal Minds

11 December 2015 / by / in , , ,

“May the force be with you” – Top tips for a successful Christmas Party

The Christmas party is usually a great way to give employees the chance to socialise and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments. There is however, always a risk that the conduct of employees may result in unpleasant disputes and tribunal claims, particularly when excessive drinking is involved.

It is therefore important for organisations to consider the following recommendations when preparing for the office Christmas party:

“If you end your training now — if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did — you will become an agent of evil“

It is the responsibility of an employer to manage the employee’s behaviour during the course of their employment. This normally includes events organised by the employer such as the Christmas party and continues to be the case even where the party is outside working hours and/or in a location other than the office. As a result, if an employee carries out an act of bullying, harassment or discrimination at the Christmas party, their employer can be held liable.

Employers must therefore ensure that they can show they have taken reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment from occurring. This may include providing the right training, ensuring that employees are aware of the consequences of discrimination or other inappropriate behaviour and taking the suitable disciplinary action against offending employees having thoroughly investigated in the usual way under the appropriate policy.

“The force is strong with this one”

Drafting a Christmas Party Statement can ensure that the Christmas party has the best chance of success while protecting employers from any problems that may arise.

The Christmas Party Statement should provide a clear policy on the standards of behaviour expected and the likely consequences of a breach.

Alcohol fuelled behaviour is the root cause of many tribunal claims and employers should make it clear that excessive alcohol consumption, impromptu light sabre duels, other unwanted conduct and discriminatory remarks such as calling someone a “slimy, double-crossing no-wood swindler” will not be tolerated.

By providing a code of conduct (light sabre protocol optional), employers can ensure that employees will know what is expected of them, creating clear boundaries that are easy to follow.

“You must learn the ways of the Force”

To avoid any complaints of discrimination, employers must invite all employees to the Christmas party. It is important to extend invitations to employees on maternity or paternity leave and it may be appropriate to invite those on sick leave depending on the nature of their illness.

Employers should consider hosting the party at a location that is accessible by all employees, suitable for employees of all ages, and provide facilities for those with a disability. Venues that might offend those of a particular religion or sex should be avoided.

“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…”

We have all heard the story about the drunken storm trooper, but what we don’t tend to hear about is the negligence claims that followed.

Employers have a duty to their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and should consider the health and safety implications of holding an event that might involve employees drinking to excess.

ACAS advises that employers should ensure that all employees are given the best chance to avoid over-indulgence by providing non-alcoholic drinks and enough food, while limiting the amount of alcohol available. Employers should be sensitive to employees who do not drink alcohol or who do not eat certain foods, taking into account individual and religious dietary requirements.

It is important to make it clear to employees that they should not indulge in any behaviour that could risk the health and safety of themselves or others. It is an offence for an employer to knowingly permit or to ignore the use, production or supply of any controlled drugs including but not limited to luna-weed, brain-jagger and dream-dust, taking place on their premises. On top of this, employees who are convicted of criminal offences involving drugs, sexual misconduct or drink driving may also damage the employer’s reputation.

“I’ve got a very bad feeling about this”

As long as a proper risk assessment is carried out, employers will not normally fall foul of health and safety rules. The Equality Act does not ban traditional customs under its religious discrimination provisions. Most Christmas decorations such as tinsel, lights and trees are secular and not inherently religious, so it would be difficult to argue that they could cause offence to non- Jedi.

“Younglings, younglings gather round”

The vulnerability of apprentices when faced with “party banter” and “office pranks” should also be addressed by employers. Senior employees and employers have a clear role as mentors and must be careful not to engage in or encourage behaviour, which is, or could be construed as, discriminatory or bullying. The same goes for any individual within an organisation who has been assigned an advisory or mentoring role over another employee.

All employees should be advised in advance of the Christmas party that offensive or discriminatory behaviour is no more acceptable at a party than in the office, and a culture of mutual respect should be encouraged. Managers should also avoid conversations about performance, promotion, salary or career prospects. It is also a good idea to consider briefing entertainers and speakers in advance to ensure that their material is suitable.

“Watch your mouth kid, or you’ll find yourself floating home”

The use of social media during and after the Christmas party could raise potential data protection issues if those appearing in photos have not consented to their images being uploaded on to social media sites. There is also a risk that employees may post inappropriate messages on social media sites, which could cause offence and/or embarrassment to anyone referred to in the post as well as potential reputational damage to the employer.

Employers need to remind employees of the likely consequences and disciplinary sanctions, which may result from inappropriate use of social media and refer them to the organisations social media policy.

“We meet again, at last”

Employers must consider their actions in respect of past misdemeanours to ensure consistency when conducting disciplinaries. In truly parallel circumstances, evidence of inconsistent disciplinary decisions in relation to other employees may be enough to support an argument that the dismissal of an employee was not reasonable and that a lesser sanction would have been appropriate.

Employers must also be clear about their expectations regarding absences the day after the Christmas party and the consequences if their expectations are breached. Employers must take care when disciplining employees if they have a history of festive tolerance, particularly where alcohol consumption at lunchtime is concerned, as this could be used to show that the disciplinary action is unfair.

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