It is that time of year again. The Christmas season is upon us and with it comes the annual problem for employers of the office Christmas party.
This article sets out the legal risks for employers and what can be done to try to minimise those risks.
Legal Risks for Employers
It is well known that employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at office parties as they are deemed by courts/ tribunals to be an extension of the workplace. An employer is potentially liable for health and safety breaches, acts of negligence or discrimination (most obviously harassment on the grounds of sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief) that may take place at an office party. With that in mind, we have set out some top do’s and don’ts for the festive season.
- Remind employees of expectations regarding behaviour in advance of the party and that disciplinary and grievance policies apply
- Inform employees that alcohol should be consumed responsibly
- Inform employees that the supply or use of illegal drugs will potentially be viewed as gross misconduct
- If the party takes place when some or all attendees will need to work the next day, make sure people know beforehand what is expected of them and that disciplinary action could be taken if they fail to turn up for work because of over-indulging
- Ensure policies on anti-harassment are in place and refer employees to the policies in advance of the party
- If inviting partners ensure that the invitation is extended to husbands/ wives and boyfriends/ girlfriends of the same and opposite sex
- Carry out a risk assessment of the potential for accidents or injuries at the venue
- Consider any physical adjustments to the venue for disabled staff
- Provide soft drinks as an alternative to alcohol
- Ensure the food meets the social and religious requirements of attendees
- Designate a few managers to keep ‘an eye out’ for problem situations and intervene if an employee starts behaving inappropriately
- Take steps to ensure (as far as possible) that employees get home safely
- If a complaint of inappropriate behaviour is received following the Christmas party, investigate and deal with it promptly
- Make sure your employers liability insurance (to cover your staff’s welfare) and your directors’ and officers’ insurance (to cover your managers’ liability) are up to date
- Do not put up mistletoe in the workplace or at the Christmas party as it will only encourage incidents and potential sexual harassment claims
- Do not encourage binge drinking by allowing drinks promotions or unlimited alcohol all night
The Christmas party can be a successful event and an effective way of an employer boosting moral by rewarding staff for their hard work and efforts that year.
However, if proper measures are not taken then the Christmas party can lead to the dismissal of good staff/ liability on employers for acts of drunken stupidity.