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Common Pitfalls of the Office Christmas Party

The annual Christmas party offers employers the chance to thank members of staff for their hard work over the past year and is a chance for everyone to relax and enjoy the holiday season. However, with events of this nature, there is the potential for things to go wrong and careful planning is required to ensure their success.

Employers should have clear guidance reminding employees that their behaviour at work-related events must comply with normal standards and should not breach workplace equal treatment and anti-harassment policies. The consequences of improper conduct should be made clear. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at such events as they are likely to be regarded as having taken place 'in the course of employment'.

In order to ensure the event goes as smoothly as possible, the following basic steps should be taken:

  • A risk assessment of the venue should be carried out to ensure that it does not pose any health and safety problems and that it is easily accessible for any disabled employees;
  • To ensure employees do not put themselves or others at risk as a result of consuming excess alcohol, assess carefully how much, if any, should be provided free of charge and make sure soft drinks are available as an alternative. Employees should be reminded that they have a general duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions or omissions;
  • To ensure employees get home safely, consider hiring transport or providing taxis if necessary;
  • Where employees' partners are invited to attend, invitations should not discriminate as to who is included;
  • Where possible, make sure that the arrangements accommodate the requirements of employees of different religions, including any special dietary requirements. It is also sensible to offer anyone with specific food allergies the opportunity to choose a suitable meal;
  • Ensure that employees understand the difference between 'banter' and behaviour that could be considered to infringe the dignity of any person present. Consider appointing an appropriate number of senior staff to act as general overseers to ensure the event is trouble free and to whom staff know they can report any problems. This will ensure that if inappropriate behaviour occurs, swift action is taken. Where an official complaint is made with regard to unwanted conduct during the event, this must be dealt with formally;
  • If entertainment is to be provided, take the time to ensure this will not contain material likely to cause anyone offence;
  • Make sure that employees who are expected to attend work the day after the function understand that absence through over-indulgence is likely to be regarded as a disciplinary rather than a medical matter; and
  • Make sure employees are aware that any illegal acts will not be tolerated.

In order to limit the possibility of a vicarious liability claim, employers may wish to consider organising an event with a clear finishing time – for example a meal in a restaurant – so that employees who wish to carry on celebrating afterwards do so at a venue of their own choosing.

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