Christmas parties - Jingle bells not (HR) alarm bells!

30 November 2018

Your work Christmas event is a fantastic means of thanking your staff for their hard work over the year and for building relationships internally within your teams. However, there are some serious considerations that need to be made to minimise any post party dilemmas, many of which can be preempted by turning your event invitation into a policy in disguise.

The event invitation

You will need to let your employees know when and where the event is taking place, so why not combine this communication with some reminders about the importance of appropriate conduct. Delivered in the correct way, this approach should prompt employees to be mindful of their behaviour, but without removing the fun factor.

Employee conduct

You want employees to have a great time, but you also need to put some rules in place about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. During events where alcohol is consumed and there is a blurring of professional boundaries, this becomes even more important.

You may wish to cover areas such as:

  • alcohol and drugs consumption;
  • travel arrangements (including a stance on drink driving);
  • discrimination and harassment;
  • violent conduct;
  • verbal abuse and offensive language;
  • reminder of company policies that might apply; and
  • penalties for absence/lateness the following day.

Behaviour that would normally seem inappropriate can occur when fuelled with alcohol and inhibitions are lowered. Sexual harassment, falling under the wider definition of harassment, is often one of these behaviours. Employers must remember that it can also be in non-physical form, such as via e-mail or social media as well. 

The result of poor employee conduct at the company Christmas party can be costly for employers who may end up spending hours resolving issues to avoid formal grievances or disciplinary action. In addition, situations outlined above (particularly those of involving sexual harassment) have been the grounds for countless claims in tribunals because of the concept of 'vicarious liability'.

Vicarious liability

Vicarious liability is where an employer is responsible for the actions of its employees 'during the course of their employment' and is crucial for companies to be aware of. Even for Christmas parties held off-site and with optional attendance, the employer remains legally responsible for its employees’ actions. You can also find further information about vicarious liability in our webinar ‘The silly season – what to be aware of ahead of the Christmas season’. 

Tips for holding Christmas parties

You might wish to appoint event coordinators. They can become the go-to team who can keep an eye out for unwanted employee behaviour and be approached in case of any concerns.

Whilst your managers deserve to enjoy the Christmas party they should still be reminded that they have additional responsibilities to act as role models to more junior staff members. If a manager spots or overhears something that may be inappropriate, dealing with it immediately may just prevent an escalation and a tricky situation to deal with back at work.

Ensure that your employees are aware of the company position on matters such as discrimination and harassment throughout the year. For example, during your onboarding process, team meetings or workshops, it is important to reiterate the company values. Pro-activity will encourage staff to take the values onboard and will avoid relying on a social workplace policy being sent out just before the Christmas party. 

If you would like some advice and/or some help with developing a Christmas event invitation, please contact Laura Cerasale or Kerri Constable