Employee Christmas Parties and how to avoid the pitfalls!

Michelle Scanlan-Sanson All Members, Public

Employee Christmas Parties and how to avoid the pitfalls!

It is that time of year where the annual staff Christmas party is anticipated…for some it is a long-standing tradition and is these days not just limited to office staff. Money may be tight but it doesn’t stop many employers from providing an event of some description. In some cases, employees have been known to self-fund events although this is can often be limited to bringing food and drink into the workplace. It is the season of good will and a time for some employers to thank their employees with a festive event. Many employees will be excited at the prospect of a social event and morale may be high as a subsequence so it is extremely important to plan to minimise any employment issues that may arise as a direct result of the celebrations.

I am sure we can all recount stores and tales of various shenanigan’s and goings on that happen at or after Christmas “do’s”.  And in the light of the morning after there may be some embarrassed faces or awkward relationship’s and friendships to navigate and for you as the employer it can potentially bring a host of issues to manage. If this is the case a situation could, at a minimum, damage the morale you have worked so hard to improve and maintain or at its worst bring the organisation some very difficult publicity and/or affect an organisation’s reputation.

As an employer, it is right and proper that you should reward your hard-working employees and provide a social aspect of sorts to maintain a high morale as this not only engages your employees but assists with retention and ongoing loyalty to the business, however, that aside this should not be attained without managing the risk of potential staff misconduct, grievance and other HR related issues that may arise during the “off duty” social activities.

What many employees fail to remember or are not clearly aware of is that any work related social event Christmas or otherwise is an extension of the workplace and as such employers are liable for any third-party actions.

Today’s society and workforce is extremely diverse, so many events are required to cater for differing beliefs, religions, dietary requirements and ideals. As such, you must ensure that any social event caters for all employees, not just those who enjoy a good “booze up”. It should not be compulsory for all to attend and those that choose to refrain from the social event should not be made to feel they are “letting the side down”, are inadequate or are penalised in any way. The key area for a grievance to be raised is where an employee feels that they have been discriminated against due to, during or after a Christmas Party.

So, what can you do to manage the issues that may arise from a Christmas Parties: –

  • Prior to the event, remind all employees that the normal rules of behaviour apply even off the premises and that the party venue is an extension of the workplace. As an employer, you still have a duty of care to your employees, so you are still responsible for them all at the Company’s Christmas Party.
  • You may not need to remind employees about discrimination and sex discrimination policies per say however, it may be worth reminding them that any inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas Party will be considered and managed in the same way as any similar behaviour displayed during normal working hours.
  • You may want to remind employees not to drink and drive and to make suitable arrangements to get home if they want to drink. Depending on the location, budget and level of employer involvement you may consider organising a mini bus to pick up and take people home. If you don’t want to specifically fund this then you could offer to arrange/organise this for staff on the basis that they will have to pay for this service. Also, if you are providing alcoholic drinks it is not advisable to provide them free all night. Speak with the relevant bar staff so that they can remain vigilant in case any staff are drunk. If an employee becomes intoxicated it is your responsibility as the employer to ensure that the employee is taken home safely. Ensure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available too.
  • Advise all employees that over indulging at the Christmas Party does not excuse them from coming into work the next day and should they wish to refrain from work the next day they should apply for annual leave in the usual way. And if your business operates Monday to Friday you might want to consider holding the event either on a Friday or Saturday night.
  • All employees should be invited and advised of the event including those on Maternity Leave /Paternity Leave/Adoption Leave/Long Term illness, etc. You must also remember to include Agency workers, fixed term temporary and part time employees.
  • Remind all employees that attendance is not compulsory and remember that the date may clash with other religious or non-religious dates.
  • If any of your employees are under 18 years of age, you will need to carefully consider the venue if you hold it away from work premises to ensure that they allow under 18’s onto their premises and again advise those employees that they must not consume alcohol.
  • You must ensure that the venue is fully accessible to all especially if any of your employees have specific access requirements.
  • It would be wise to check how much you can spend per head on staff events without it being treated as a taxable perk. High value gifts are tax deductible for both employer and employees.
  • If holding the event on work premises be sure to check your insurance and decide whether you will allow alcohol to be consumed on site.

If you issue some simple rules and reminders prior to the celebratory party hopefully it will go off with a festive bang and everyone will be talking about the fun filled event for years to come for the “right” reasons!

Michelle Scanlan-Sanson Chartered MCIPD FCMI
Director | Scanlan-Sanson Culkin Consulting Limited

I can help you to ensure that you or your business are compliant with current employment law, dealing with staffing issues, staff training or business changes correctly, managing projects both business and HR specific ….With extensive generalist HR experience combined with a strong operational and delivery focused approach building collaborative, positive and productive working relationships I have developed creative, innovative, practical and effective solutions when introducing new HR policies, process change or added benefits to a business.With proven experience of local and global (that means I have worked with organisations in Europe and some African states as well as the UK!) HR solutions and TUPE, I can be as hands on or off as you need.

As a Chartered Member of the CIPD and Fellow of CMI, I am a highly committed, credible and trusted HR Professional with in depth business knowledge. I am highly adaptable having worked across all settings including; Central/Local Government, Third Sector, SME and Large corporate organisations.

I am ACAS/OCR qualified and experienced in internal workplace mediation skills and qualified BPS Level A and Level B utilising these skills in recruitment, performance management, 360 Feedback and team development processes.

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