The work Christmas party can throw up a number of issues for employers, ranging from post party absenteeism to allegations of sexual harassment. It is nevertheless a great morale booster for staff, so before you decide to be a party pooper and cancel this year’s celebrations, Gotelee solicitors have some tips for a trouble free party.
Employers are vicariously liable for the acts of their employees that are committed in the course of employment. ‘In the course of employment’ has a wide meaning and will extend to work-related social events even if they take place away from the workplace and out of normal working hours. Perhaps the biggest risk area in this context is sexual harassment. An employer will be potentially liable for an employee that consumes too much alcohol at the Christmas party and sexually harasses a colleague.
An employer will have a defence however if it can show that it has taken all reasonably practicable steps to prevent the harassment. How can you do this; after all how could you possibly know what your employees might get up to at the party? Well you don’t need a crystal ball, and you don’t have to cancel the Christmas party, but there are some simple steps you can take to protect the business.
Make sure all employees know what is considered to be acceptable behaviour and what is not. Most employers will have equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies in place setting this out (which is recommended), but there’s nothing to stop you having a specific policy for office parties and other events. Make sure the policy is communicated to all employees – make it a requirement that all employees read the policy and sign to confirm they have done so. There’s no point in having an expertly crafted policy which no-one has read. And, if you want to be doubly sure you won’t end up in an Employment Tribunal, arrange training for employees and Managers on your policies and procedures. But policy or no policy, it’s good practice to remind employees of their obligations on the Christmas party invitation.
Employers are also potentially liable for the acts of third parties, so warn third parties such as entertainers and outside caterers what is not acceptable in the same way as you would do your own staff. In a well-known case, the owner of a hotel was held liable for race discrimination when “comedian” Bernard Manning made two black waitresses, working at a banquet, the subject of racist and sexist remarks.
Given that Christmas parties are traditionally associated with the festive season, potential discrimination issues may arise where members of the workforce follow religions other than Christianity. Ensure that staff are not pressurised into attending if they don’t want to. Ensure that non-alcoholic drinks are provided and, if offering food, that there are vegetarian alternatives available.
If the invitation is extended to partners, it is important that those in same-sex relationships are treated equally.
Given the potential risks to health and safety associated with consumption of alcohol, it is essential to carry out a risk assessment before the event. Consider nominating a manager who will refrain from drinking alcohol and who can keep an eye out for, and deal with, any issues that might arise, such as bad behaviour. If anyone is witnessed behaving unacceptably this must be nipped in the bud promptly and if necessary the individual being asked to leave. Again there is little point in having that expertly crafted policy if it isn’t enforced. Consideration should also be given to ensuring that all staff can get home safely, particularly if the venue is out of town and/or if staff are travelling alone.
But most important of all remember to have fun!
How can our Employment Lawyers help you?
If we can offer any advice or help with any issues arising from your Christmas party for either individuals or businesses, our employment lawyers can be contact on 01473 211121 or email [email protected]
Merry Christmas and a happy new year from Gotelee’s Employment Team.