Ahh, Christmas party time is on the horizon – a time of festive cheer, office parties and… a headache for some organisations!
A Christmas party is an obvious place for things to go wrong. Often held outside of the workplace, with drinks flowing, people relaxing (and losing inhibitions) and then the problems start. Typical complaints after a Christmas party involve people saying things they shouldn’t, unwanted attention/touching (sexual discrimination complaints), and inappropriate conduct complaints (drunken behaviour, fighting, through to amorous liaisons in inappropriate places and sometimes with inappropriate people!).
There is responsibility on individuals attending office parties to act appropriately, however, the employer also has numerous responsibilities when planning Christmas parties. Employers must remember they can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their staff – put simply, they can be held responsible for their staff’s behaviour (depending on the circumstances). Usually these types of circumstances relate to discrimination, or some kind of personal injury and can result in considerable amounts of compensation to be paid if the employer is not careful.
There are some simple rules to follow to try and mitigate any potential problems:
1 – Be very clear about the rules and any expectations before the event happens.
Send memo’s, emails, newsletters, intranet notices, whatever it is, but be crystal clear about expected behaviours at the office party. Set out any rules you might have. These might also include rules around social media posts/photos and a reminder that the photocopiers are not there to scan body parts! Employees can be quick to forget they are still bound by the terms in their contracts once the alcohol starts flowing, so make sure the consequences of any bad behaviour are made very clear (refer to any relevant policies).
2 – Be mindful of ‘Elf & Safety!
Even if the event is off site, some Health & Safety measures will still need to be considered. For example, transport to/from the party. As an employer, you may or may not be providing transport. If you do, you need measures to ensure employees get to/from the venue safely. Particularly on the way home, it’s important to make sure no one’s missing! If you’re not providing transport, have you considered how people get home? Make sure the party finishes in time to ensure employees can get public transport home.
3 – Plan Appropriately
Make sure things have been thought through properly. Consider any special requirements that may be necessary – wheelchair access for example, food allergies if providing food. Consider those with commitments such as childcare and those with religious/cultural beliefs. Make sure you invite staff that are not currently in the business (EG: those on maternity). Not everyone will drink so ensure there’s plenty of soft drinks. It’s easy for people to feel excluded if the event is not planned thoroughly.
4 – Think about designating ‘responsible persons’ on the night
Although everyone wants to let their hair down and enjoy themselves, it might be worth having several ‘responsible persons’ who will keep an eye on things during the evening. Whether it’s keeping watch on the bar (particularly if it’s a free bar), or just generally being alert to make sure nothing gets out of hand.
A lot of Managers choose not to get too drunk at Office Parties (partly as they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of their staff), so it shouldn’t be too hard to get a couple of volunteers. I know I never got that drunk at office parties (for that same reason) and it’s a good job really, as I once had to escort a member of staff who was drunk, (slipped off a bar stool and gave himself concussion as he hit the floor), up to the hospital in an ambulance and spent several hours at the hospital with him to make sure he was ok. Not the end to the night that I had anticipated!
5 – Be Clear on Post Party Absenteeism
Ensure there’s a policy in place and that all Managers approach this consistently. Make the consequences clear to employees as to the actions they are likely to face, if they fail to attend work after the office party.
While there are many other aspects that can be considered, considering the points made in this article will help you think about the upcoming festive season and any parties you may be having. If you do need any further help, please do get in touch.