HR & Employment Law Insights

Helping family businesses, start-ups, charities, social enterprises, and other growing or established businesses throughout the UK make sense of HR and Employment Law challenges.

As the nights start to close in and winter approaches, there are lots of opportunities for staff to let their hair down and socialise after work.

Depending on the traditions of the company, there may be Halloween, Bonfire and of course Christmas parties organised by the business for their employees to enjoy.

However, despite the best of intentions things can go very wrong if every aspect is not carefully planned and considered. Here’s some of the factors every business should take into account in order to manage work parties responsibly.

SET EXPECTATIONS

Although you want employees to enjoy themselves, it’s a good idea to issue a gentle reminder about the expected conducted prior to the event. By doing this, no-one can claim that they weren’t aware of the potential consequences if matters get out of hand on the night.

You don’t need to appear to be draconian or to insist on a huge list of rules and regulations, but reminding employees that unacceptable behaviour could lead to dismissal is not unreasonable.

DECIDE ON THE VENUE

When choosing the venue, you’ll need to pick a location which people can easily travel to and from. Consider transport as if this is a problem you could end up with employees drinking and driving.-

Just because it’s out of hours doesn’t mean your duty of care to employees ceases; you need to be certain that you’ve done everything you can to encourage responsible behaviour. This could include either organising the party to finish while public transport is still running, laying on a coach or minibuses or handing out the numbers to local taxi firms.

Whatever you do, don’t hold the party on you own premises. It may seem like an ideal solution,

and cost-saving too, but before the night is over, at least a few tipsy employees will have the

brilliant idea of carrying out pranks and general mischief making. This may include photocopying body parts – and potentially damaging the delicate glass plates – or engaging in dangerous behaviour such as dancing on desks.

If you really do want to hold the party on your own premises, lock up the parts of the building that you don’t want employees to access so that company property is protected.

ALCOHOL

Most employees will enjoy a few alcoholic drinks at work parties, and usually there’s no harm in this at all.

However, as a responsible employer you need to try and ensure that there are no excesses and a good way to do this is to limit the amount of free booze that is on offer. It may seem like a generous idea, but a free bar for the entire evening is far more likely to lead to overindulgences, and that’s generally when the problems really begin.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

What one employee sees as harmless flirting another may interpret as sexual harassment so it’s essential to keep an eye on behaviour during the event to watch for anyone who appears to be acting inappropriately.

It may simply be the effects of the alcohol, but as an employer you will be deemed to be responsible for such actions under the “vicarious liability” principles if you don’t take steps to prevent or halt unacceptable behaviour.

For this reason, providing mistletoe for Yuletide festivities is generally best avoided.

CONCLUSION

Striking the right balance between allowing employees to have fun and being responsible as an employer isn’t always easy but it’s essential to be properly prepared. Consider in advance the approach you’ll take to employees who ring in sick because they’re worse for wear on the following day, or those who don’t perform well at work if they do turn up. Ensure any policies are applied consistently across the board and do make sure that your invitations are fully inclusive and that any complaints are investigated properly and sensitively after the event. And of course – have fun!

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Image Credits: Charles Ford and Laura Hayward