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Christmas Parties: guidelines for employers

By 10th December 2015DMA LAW TEAM

christmas-parties-legal-adviceMany employers host a Christmas party over the holiday season. Mix some alcohol, a festive atmosphere, Secret Santa and the impending time off work, and employers often discover that the Christmas party puts them in an uncomfortable position.

Contrary to popular belief, employers can be held responsible for incidents that occur during a company social gathering—whether or not the company funded the party, or if the management weren’t present.

So how can you still enjoy the season’s festivities without getting in legal trouble? Reduce risk by planning ahead and following these guidelines for hosting safe and low-key Christmas parties.

  • Remind employees prior to the event that while in attendance of the Christmas party, they are representing the company, and any behaviour that could be deemed damaging to the company’s reputation will be addressed accordingly.
  • If you find it necessary, outline acceptable behaviour and warn staff against unwanted conduct. Explain that conduct which breaches their contract of employment is still punishable even if it occurs outside of the workplace or typical office hours. Examples include policies related to alcohol use, drug misuse, discrimination, bullying and harassment.
  • If the party is before a work day, specify to employees that they are expected at work the day following the party.
  • Review your own policies and procedures to assess risk and to ensure that you, as an employer, have responsible parties in attendance who are clear on the policies.
  • Avoid discrimination by ensuring that all employees are invited to the festivities regardless of circumstance. If you’re inviting spouses, extend the invitation to not ‘husbands and wives’ but ‘partners’ to ensure to avoid sexual orientation discrimination.
  • Make the theme inclusive to all religions and cultures, providing food options for special diets like vegan or gluten-free and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Arrange transport for after the party to ensure no one drinks and drives home. At the minimum, provide taxi numbers. Hire a minibus or hotel rooms if the party is out of the city centre.
  • Cases of non-attendance the day after the party need to be handled particularly carefully. Rely on employee contracts to determine potential punishments for absences, and be wary of disciplining those who may have legitimate illnesses. Offer disciplinary action fairly, evenly and in a non-discriminatory way.
  • In the event of a complaint being filed after the fact, handle the investigation professionally and thoroughly. Never dismiss a complaint or ignore it, as failure to respond could result in further complaints against the company as discriminatory.

These recommendations may seem harsh, but better safe than sorry, especially with the number of employers who regret not pre-empting issues and end up in trouble.

The Christmas season should be a time to celebrate the success from the last year and enjoy time with colleagues outside of work. By not leaving your employees and your company exposed to extra risk, you can enjoy it as well.

If you’d like further advice while planning for the Christmas party or have questions about employment law, get in touch. We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season!