Posted: 28th November 2012
An office Christmas party is an opportunity for employers to thank members of staff for their contribution over the year and a chance to relax and enjoy the holiday season.
There are pitfalls, though, and employers are reminded that they owe employees certain obligations, even outside work, when the function has been organised by the employer. To prevent what should be a happy occasion from leading to recriminations or worse, an employer should take certain basic steps.
The most obvious obligation is the statutory duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees. It is advisable to carry out a risk assessment, which should include the venue and, in particular, the possible risks associated with serving alcohol.
Making sure employees can get home safely is important, so consider hiring transport or providing taxis if necessary. Ensure soft drinks are provided as an alternative to alcoholic drinks.
Give consideration to possible claims for discrimination. For example, the venue, timing of the party and the choice of food and drink available should be carefully arranged to ensure that these do not indirectly discriminate against employees of a particular religion or with particular beliefs.
If you are planning to provide entertainment, make sure this does not offend anyone with a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
If employees’ partners are invited, make sure there is no discrimination with regard to who is included. Ensure also that reasonable adjustments are made to allow any disabled employee or partner to attend the event.
It is important to have up-to-date equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies in place that state clearly that they cover conduct at work-related functions that take place away from the office. Members of staff should be given a timely reminder of the importance of complying with the policies.
Ensure that they understand the difference between 'banter' and behaviour that could be considered to infringe the dignity of any person present. The most likely problem is that inappropriate behaviour may occur, especially if alcohol flows too freely, that a member of staff with a protected characteristic finds objectionable.
If you do receive a complaint of discrimination or harassment, take prompt action.
Make sure that employees who are expected to attend work the day after the Christmas party understand that absence through over-indulgence is likely to be regarded as a disciplinary rather than a medical matter but do not jump to conclusions. It is important to have evidence of malingering before taking disciplinary action.
Whilst employees’ contracts of employment are likely to deal with most or all of these issues, a reminder in advance of the function is a sensible precaution.
For further advice on all these matters contact us.