The annual office party is a great way for employers to show their appreciation for employees’ hard work, but it seems legal experts and/or HR all too often have to play Scrooge at Christmas time, putting a dampener on the over-exuberance and over-indulgence that all too often is part and parcel (groan!) of the Christmas season. However, a little forethought and planning can avoid many of the problems.
Heading off problems
Most claims arise from employees drinking too much, leading to sexual harassment, aggressive behaviour, or even violence. Employers can help avoid this by providing some simple guidance to remind employees of their duty to ensure they (and any partner they bring along to an office party) conduct themselves in an appropriate, mature and responsible manner throughout the evening. This could be done either by calling a meeting of all employees to explain what this means, or issuing each of them a note with details.
So what sort of behaviour should you tell your employees you expect of them and their partners?
It would be advisable to include that:
- Alcohol should be consumed in moderation; the provision of any free or subsidised alcoholic drinks by your organisation is not an excuse for anyone to drink excessively;
- Any individual’s decision not to drink alcohol, for whatever reason, must be respected – it doesn’t meant they can’t still party and have just as great a time;
- No-one should drink and drive;
- Under Health and Safety legislation, we all have a duty to take reasonable care of our own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by our acts or omissions;
- Kissing under the mistletoe might be some people’s idea of fun, but it isn’t everyone’s, and to avoid any claims of harassment is best avoided;
- Improper conduct or other unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and is a serious disciplinary matter that could lead to dismissal.
It is also a good idea for at least some managers not to drink any alcohol at all and keep an eye open for potential trouble, with a view to nipping it in the bud before anything untoward happens.
A happy time for all
I hope you have seen this is less of a “Bah, Humbug! approach to the festive season and more one of caution; a little preparation can help to ensure everyone, employee and employer alike, enjoys a safe, legal and Happy (rather than just a Merry!) Christmas.
Seasons Greetings to you all.
Helen Skepper – Research and Communications Advisor
Su Allen HR