Christmas parties can be a great way to reward your employees after a year of hard work, but can sometimes be a nightmare for the employer. Employers ought to be aware of the potential employment law issues that may arise. A combination of drink-fuelled behaviour and a party atmosphere can be a recipe for disaster and employers must remember that employment laws will still apply at the Christmas party, even if the party takes place outside of the work premises and outside of work hours. This is something that employers will often be unaware of.
Recent case law has confirmed that employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at Christmas parties. Bad-mouthing employees, excessive alcohol consumption, fighting and inappropriate remarks are just a few of the scenarios linked with Christmas parties.
In order to ensure a smooth and enjoyable party, employers should prepare well. Employees should be reminded of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and ensure that you have robust policies in place. Employers should make employees aware that these policies will apply outside of the office too. It is therefore important that policies are updated and are understood and complied with by all employees.
Employers should be aware that employees who are convicted of criminal offences involving the use of drugs, drink-related charges or other misconduct issues may damage the reputation of the employer. Therefore, to minimise against such risks, employers should consider issuing a statement in advance of the party, and remind employees that excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, and behaviours will not be tolerated. Employers should remind employees of the possible sanctions which may be used against employees who are in breach of the rules.
If an employer is considering providing celebratory drinks to employees via a free bar, this could encourage employees to drink excessively, resulting in further issues arising. Employers may therefore wish to consider limiting free alcohol to employees up to a certain amount, and to also provide other forms of entertainment so that drinking is not the sole focus. If there are any employees under the age of 18 who are attending, care needs to be taken to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to the implications of this including whether there is an outright ban on such employees being allowed to consume any alcohol at all, given the rules allowing these individuals to do so at such events are very limited and easily could be breached.
In order to ensure that you avoid any discrimination claims, it is crucial that employers cater for all requirements, whether that is for vegetarians or those with religious beliefs who do not eat certain foods. Employers should ask about special dietary requirements beforehand so that their needs can be accommodated. Employers should also make sure that non-alcoholic drinks are available. Entertainment at the party should be tasteful and not offend anyone in attendance.
Employers have a duty of care to employees and should consider how they will get home from the event. If the budget can stretch, employers are advised to organise transport for their employees. If not, check the time of the last trains home and provide contact numbers for local taxi firms to all employees prior to the event so that employees can made the necessary arrangements.