This time of year, we find ourselves extremely busy supporting clients looking for advice on issues with absence, bullying, sexual harassment, misconduct, drink driving and other employment related matters that have occurred due to the annual Christmas party.
We’re not the HR police, but we don’t want to see you suffering a hangover this Christmas having to deal with HR issues following what should be a time of celebration.
It’s important that you realise the potential issues which could arise as a result of a Christmas party whether this is in the office, within working hours, out of hours or away from the office. Regardless of when and where you hold the event, this is seen as an extension of the workplace and normal employment rules apply around behaviour.
Here are some “Do’s and Don’ts” on key issues that arise around this time of year, and things we have advised on over a number of years.
You have probably already planed your event, but here are points you should consider:
- Select a venue which is accessible to disabled people (if applicable) and which will not offend a particular sex or religion.
- Make the event inclusive for all staff (check if anyone is on maternity or sick leave or any other leave, and make sure they are invited)
- Take time to remind staff about the policies you have in place and make sure they are clear on what you consider to be unacceptable behaviour.
- Avoid conversations about employee performances, salary, career prospects etc.
- Don’t spend too long with one or two individuals
- Try to speak to as many of the team as you can and make a point of talking to people you don’t often get the chance to engage with at work.
- Enjoy the occasion.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do – invite everyone, but remember people may not want to attend for religious or family reasons. Think about those that can’t make it for operational reasons – you may have shift workers and need to provide cover. Can you do something else for them, either a separate event or provide pizza etc. when they’re at work?
Don't - force everyone to go – this could be seen as potentially discriminatory.
Do - be mindful of the types of presents which can be exchanged in a secret Santa which could be seen as offensive (and possibly discriminatory i.e. underwear/ sex related).
Don't condone any discriminatory behaviour as you and the company are liable for the acts of your employees
Food and Drink
Do – make sure there is enough food to line everyone’s stomach and not too much free alcohol. I’ve seen companies limit this per person by using tokens etc. to monitor consumption (to a degree).
Do – check if anyone has any dietary requirements, this is important to avoid any allergic reactions, and for religious reasons.
Do – ensure there are enough soft drinks and water available (again for religious reasons and non-drinkers).
Don't – allow underage drinking (its illegal!).
Do remember that conversations that take place are seen as an extension of the workplace – so, don’t give feedback to people on work performance, career progression on pay increases!
Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination
This is hugely topical at the moment with the claims in Hollywood and Westminster. This is the area that causes HR professionals the most problems as this is where your business is at most risk.
Do – make it clear to all employees that bullying, harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated, ensure it is clear in your polices that anything that occurs at the party is in the course of their employment and therefore would be investigated using the disciplinary procedure. Do ensure your policies are up to date within your Employee Handbook.
Don't comment on the way someone looks unless you have that type of relationship with them – this could be taken out of context. Don’t engage in banter with people who you do not know very well, especially if you are in a managerial position as any comments made could offend someone. Even if this is unintentional this could amount to discrimination leaving the company liable for the actions of that employee in a claim of discrimination.
Don't make any sexual advances on any of your staff. It is very common at Christmas parties and usually is one sided. I’ve seen many managers be the subject of a sex discrimination claim as a result.
Don’t be afraid to tell anyone who is behaving badly or inappropriately to leave the party. You’re still the boss!
Do- be consistent in your approach to all staff – this avoids complaints of bias or unfair treatment.
Criminal Offences and Drugs
Do remember it is an offence for an employer to knowingly permit or even ignore the use or supply of controlled drugs taking on their premises (this extends to work parties off site). The same applies to knowingly let people drive home after consuming alcohol.
Do – use social media but allocate a designated person to post the office party photos etc. on Facebook and Twitter (only if you have permission of the individual to post the photo).
Do – submit all posts after the event and not during it to avoid mistakes or posting inappropriate material.
Don't let staff do what they want as this could damage the reputation of the company and could result in complaints by staff who did not agree to the posting of their photograph online.
Do have a social media policy in place – if you don’t have one contact Jodie Hill who can provide one for you.
Getting Home Safely
Do – ensure your employees get home safely, be mindful of the drunken state some will be in and provide taxi numbers and/ or check the train times and be mindful of your female and younger employees. Could you organise your own transport for people, or arrange accommodation for those that live a fair distance from the venue?
The Morning After
Do – if you are working the next day, make it clear if you are allowing people to come in late what the new start time is.
Don't expect everyone to be as normal next day –most people will be tired and a little worse for wear, hence a later start can sometimes help with morale and productivity. Could you hold the event before a non-working day?
Do treat everyone the same – disparity of treatment can result in unfair dismissals and discrimination claims.
Do check those who drive or operate machines as a part of their role (or even those just driving to and from work) are not over the limit from the night before.
Do take action against those people who do not turn up. Everyone is in the same boat so all must attend, a hangover is NOT an excuse.
Do ensure your customers are still looked after – they probably don’t care if it is your Christmas party, they expect the same level of service.