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INSIGHT: How to Avoid a Nightmare Before Christmas

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Christmas is coming and everyone is getting excited about the company Christmas ‘do’.  All the talk is about the outfits, the venue and who’s sharing a taxi with who but if you’re on the management team you need to be aware that lethargy and aching heads may not be the only hangovers you have to deal with after the event.

The point of the office party is to bring the whole team together, to celebrate the year’s achievements and thank staff for their hard work. But social events like this can be a breeding ground for petty grievances and often fuelled by alcohol and a what-goes-on-tour-stays-on-tour attitude to speaking freely outside office hours, things can sometimes get out of hand.

Susan Mayall, head of employment says: “Whilst most party goers will enjoy the festive season responsibly, behaviour at Christmas parties may result in tribunal claims, which can include sexual harassment, racial bullying or violence towards a colleague.”

“In extreme cases, such incidents may involve dismissing an employee for gross misconduct, or an employee may raise a grievance about what has happened to them and this may result in a discrimination claim against the employer, so prompt and decisive action is essential.”

Always take accusations seriously, investigate thoroughly and involve the police where appropriate.  It’s also vital to consult a solicitor as soon as possible to ensure your actions follow employment law best practice.

So, how can you reduce the risk of incidents like these happening in the first place?  Here are our top 10 tips for avoiding an office party nightmare before Christmas:

  1. The starting point is to make sure you have the right policies in place, whether these relate to drugs, alcohol, appropriate use of social media or an anti-harassment policy. The policies should also make reference to work-related events outside of the normal working hours and/or environment
  2. Ensure all policies are communicated to staff
  3. Limit the amount of free alcohol on offer and ensure there are alcohol free drinks for those who don’t drink or want to pace themselves.
  4. Ensure that your party respects employees of all religions and cultures by thinking carefully about the food, drink, venue and entertainment on offer
  5. If you invite partners, make sure the invitation is non-gender specific to include employees of all sexual orientations
  6. Choose a venue for your party that has ease of access for disabled employees/partners
  7. Ensure you invite colleagues that are on sick leave, maternity leave or have any other leave of absence.  It’s important to remember that they may not have access to emails so take care that the invitation reaches them
  8. Ensure that you are clear about the consequences of absenteeism the day after the Christmas party.  Any discretionary flexi time arrangement the following day should be clearly communicated
  9. Treat any grievance raised during or after the party seriously: simply putting it down to alcohol or high jinks does not deal with the problem, nor does it fulfil your obligations as an employer.
  10. Gain buy-in for all policies across the management team by ensuring that all managers are aware if policies have been updated and training given if necessary and ensure that the response is prompt, consistent and joined up if an incident occurs.

For all advice on employment law please contact Susan Mayall on Tel: 0161 785 3500 or email Susan.mayall@pearsonlegal.co.uk

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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