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The office Christmas party has been a tradition for decades now – and as fun as they can be, they also present problems for employers.

When alcohol and the festive spirit mix, behaviour can sometimes go too far and – contrary to popular belief, an employer can still be deemed responsible for what goes on at a company social gathering, even if the no monetary contribution has been made and even if the organisation took place below management level.

While nobody wants to be seen to be bringing the mood down, or ruining any of the fun, it is increasingly important in the modern climate for an employer to take measures to ensure the Christmas party goes without a hitch.

This may seem heavy-handed, but there are countless examples every year of employers who wish they’d taken clear and decisive preventative action. Nobody wants to return to an office where the mood has been compromised by over-exuberant behaviour – or worse. Don’t leave your company exposed to such risk.

Follow the DMA Law guide to holding Christmas parties and you could prevent potentially huge difficulties in the long-run.

Advance warnings

Just to reiterate, nobody wants to be seen as the ‘party pooper’, but it is worth outlining in advance what represents acceptable behaviour. Warn staff that inappropriate behaviour, unwanted conduct and unorthodox use of company property will be dealt with in the same way it would as if took place during work hours. Remind employees that certain conduct (give examples if necessary) is in breach of their employment obligations and that disciplinary action will be taken.


Cases of non-attendance the day after the party need to be handled particularly carefully. You may wish to warn staff that action could be taken against those who fail to attend. However, an investigation may need to take place to ensure you do not discipline people with legitimate, but coincidental, illnesses. Refer back to employee contracts to work out what punishments, if any, are possible/appropriate. Be sure to apply disciplinary action fairly, evenly and in a non-discriminatory way.

Policy and Procedures

This may be a good time to revisit your policies and procedures to ensure you, as an employer, are covered in the event of serious incidents. Employees should be reminded of current employer policies that relate to equal opportunities, discrimination, bullying and harassment, drug and alcohol misuse, and should be made aware that you have a clear and disciplinary and grievance policy.

Avoiding discrimination

This is a rarely-mentioned point, but when a party is being organised, it is vital to take everyone’s needs into account – especially when dealing with different religions and cultures. Celebrations must be non-discriminatory, and this can relate to anything from the theme to the timing of the event. Food and drink options should take vegetarian and vegan requirements into account, and should provide non-alcoholic drinks. Avoid clashes with other religious dates such as Hanukkah, or the Islamic New Year. Also, remember to invite people who may work for the company but might be on leave, ie maternity leave. Nobody likes to be left out at Christmas!


An employer is responsible for the actions of employees towards other employees. In the event that an incident has occurred and a complaint has been made, deal with it fairly and swiftly. Never dismiss a complaint as ‘nothing’ or ‘just banter’. Investigations should be conducted professionally and thoroughly – failure to do so could result in an additional complaint against the company for discrimination. Equally, senior management should act to deal with inappropriate behaviour as and when it’s happening.

Getting home

A duty of care approach is advisable, and this can extend to making sure people can get home safely. If this means laying on a minibus for transport, or at the very least providing taxi numbers and encouraging staff to use them, is advisable. Make sure nobody drinks and drives after the party.

Again, some of this may seem heavy-handed, but it is much better to be well-prepared than to return to work after Christmas to an acerbic atmosphere in the office.