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Top 10 legal tips for company Christmas parties

Christmas is the time of year when companies want to reward their employees for their hard work by hosting a Christmas party. Most employees behave appropriately, but sometimes behaviour gets out of control. It’s important to remember that employment laws apply even when a party takes place somewhere other than in the workplace. Employers should consider the risks of sexual harassment, alcohol-fuelled brawls, religious discrimination and post-party absenteeism.

HR Legal Service has prepared a list of its top 10 tips for a trouble-free event:

1 Do not insist that all staff attend the office Christmas party. Christmas is a Christian holiday, so do not pressure someone to attend if they do not want to on religious (or any other) grounds.

2 If the event is out of hours, remember also that some people have family responsibilities that may prevent them attending.

3 Employers need to be sensitive to employees who don’t drink alcohol or who don’t eat certain foods. Ensure that there are non-alcoholic drinks available for non-drinkers and alternative food options.

4 Employers should be mindful that allowing employees to bring their partners must not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation. It should not be assumed that all partners are of the opposite sex and any invitation should be opened up to all.

5 Send an email that provides clear written guidance to all employees about acceptable standards of behaviour and reminding them that the party is an extension of the work place. Make it clear that fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behaviour, sexist or racist remarks, or harassment and comments about sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion will not be tolerated. Explain that disciplinary action may be taken for unacceptable behaviour.

6 In the email prior to the event itself, include advice about not drinking and driving – an employer may still be responsible for its employees driving home from an office party. Ask employees to plan their journey home before attending the party.

7 If you are considering offering a free bar, remember that this will encourage excessive alcohol intake. You may therefore want to consider restricting the amount of free alcohol available and should be prepared to ask individuals to take it easy if they appear the worse for wear. Making plenty of food available early on and serving a meal may also assist. Putting on entertainment, such as a disco, also prevents employees from simply propping up the bar.

8 Managers should avoid conversations about performance, promotion, salary, or career prospects. Promises made at a Christmas party, even when made under the influence of alcohol, can later become issues.

9 Consider appointing a “sensible” person to remain sober at the party who can intervene if things start to get out of hand. Do not discipline any employees at the party itself. Send them home if necessary and deal with the incident when you are back at the office.

10 Be clear about your expectations regarding absence the next day – but don’t expect miracles from those who do turn up for work. Ensure that all staff know the extent to which you will be lenient about coming to work late and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken.

Finally, try and have fun!