Avoiding festive fear after your Christmas Work Party
Christmas work party season is underway!
From now until Christmas (and maybe even beyond) employers all over the country may be treating their employees to slap-up meals and alcoholic refreshments to thank them for their hard work over the course of the year.
Over the last couple of years, employees may have missed out on their Christmas Work Party due to COVID-19 cases, so this year may be many companies’ first Christmas work party. Reminding employees that whilst it’s outside normal working hours the Christmas Work party is still a work event.
The Christmas work party season is a great team-building opportunity, turning workmates into real mates and giving colleagues the opportunity to get to know each other in more informal surroundings. Unfortunately, because of various pieces of legislation, employers need to set out the standards of acceptable behaviour for their workers at the Christmas Work Party (or at least explain this clearly to staff beforehand).
This is because:
Employers can be held liable for harm (under health and safety laws) or harassment caused to or by their employees, or for negligent acts of their employees.
Employers have a responsibility for their staff’s actions, even outside of normal working hours or outside of the normal working environment. Any social event organised by the employer is an ‘extension’ of the workplace – regardless of the place or time of the event
Workplace policies on bullying and harassment and discrimination still apply at the Christmas work party. Just make sure everyone knows this and knows what they are. Employers should remind staff that it is how a person perceives the behaviour that is taken into consideration, should a claim arise, and not how the behaviour is meant.
How can you avoid party problems this Christmas party season?
· Pre-Party Communications Aside from details such as date, time, and venue, employers should provide employees with a gentle reminder that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and that certain standards are expected of them and that the normal disciplinary rules will apply should any incidents arise (in the least killjoy way possible!)
· Open to all It is vital that you ensure the party is timed so that all employees, regardless of age, gender, religion, disability or any other factor have the opportunity to attend. Should any section of the workforce be seen to be favoured or discriminated against in this way, employers could find themselves under question.
· Limit the Free Bar In order to prevent people behaving in an unacceptable manner, employers need to take a sensible approach to the provision of alcohol and be alerted to take quick action to nip any unruly behaviour in the bud.
· Getting Home Consider how your employees will get home after the party. Issue advice in advance about not drinking and driving. Can the employer provide transport home, e.g. taxi pooling/coaches? At the very least encourage employees to think about how they will get home.
· The Morning After Where possible arrange for your party to be held on a night were as few people as possible are working the following day. Be clear about your expectations regarding absence the next day and explain that disciplinary action may be taken if your expectations are breached.
What amounts to gross misconduct?
Gross misconduct may vary from business to business, gross misconduct should be detailed within the employee handbook. Misconduct at a Christmas work party, may include;
- Harassment or bullying
- Physical violence
- Rude behaviour
A piece of case law that emphasises the pitfalls and problems that a work party can bring is Gimson v Display By Design Ltd Mr Gimson was employed as an operative. While walking home with a group of colleagues after their Christmas work party, he disagreed with one of his colleagues and then punched another colleague in the face.
The employer subsequently instigated its disciplinary procedure and summarily dismissed Mr. Gimson for gross misconduct, finding from its investigation that there was no provocation. Mr. Gimson’s appeal was rejected.
When dealing with situations like behaviour misconduct at Christmas work parties, previous actions should be consistent when taken action. Taking time to consider any comparable situations, the employee may have, minimising the risk of unfair dismissal cases.
Investigations should be started without delay with a further and meaningful investigation completed. Gathering evidence is a critical aspect of the investigation together with consulting with employees.
Steps for minimising misconduct at Christmas work party
- Creating a policy for conduct at work-related events
- Clearly detailing expectations for employee behaviour
- Employers should remind employees of the work-related policy prior to the Christmas work party
- Written and verbal communication may be necessary to further minimise the possibility of breaching policies leading to disciplinary action
- The communication may detail starting and finishing times of the Christmas work party, expectations for employee conduct, and reminding employees not to act any differently than they would in a normal working environment.
The Christmas work party should be a time to celebrate the successes of the year and enjoy spending time with colleagues outside of the work environment. If certain precautionary preparations are made, employers can relax at night, safe in the knowledge that they have taken steps to ensure the safety of their staff, therefore avoiding potential liability.
Christmas Work Party memo example
‘The Christmas parties will be held on INSERT DATE.
We would like to take this time to celebrate 2023’s achievements. It has been a very busy year for everyone.
Please remember however, that it is a work function and an appropriate standard of conduct is expected. I have attached details of the Bullying & Harassment (Dignity at Work) policy. Please also note the Alcohol, Drugs, & Solvent abuse policy. Both policies are included in the employee handbook.
Please familiarise yourself with these policies and be mindful of your obligations with respect to each of them.
Employees who organise informal events after work, particularly in venues close to the workplace, should recognise that such events may be classed as work-related functions. It is therefore imperative that employees conduct themselves in a proper manner and avoid bringing the Company into disrepute.
Whilst I would like everyone to enjoy themselves, I must make it clear that any employee found to be guilty of misconduct during any such event will be subject to the Disciplinary Procedure in the same way as they would had the misconduct occurred in the normal course of employment.’
If, unfortunately, an incident occurs at the Christmas work party, contact our HR consultants for HR support to ensure the company is following employment laws and procedures.