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Last updateThu, 14 Jun 2018 10am

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The Work Christmas Party – don’t start the New Year with a claim

Are you preparing for your work Christmas Party? It can be an exciting time of year, but as employers, you have more to think about then what you are going to wear and who to sit with.

These types of events can give rise to a number of employee grievances, for example colleagues being overly touchy-feely, making offensive comments, starting fights after a few drinks, or posting derogatory pictures on social media that negatively affect the company’s image.

Liability

Even if the party takes place outside of normal working hours away from the workplace, it still counts as a work-related event. You can assume that, in the eyes of the law, the party will be considered “in the course of employment” and as such, managers are still responsible for their staff’s behaviour and that employers will find themselves liable for any acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation carried out by their employee.
However, you can help avoid liability by showing that you have taken reasonable steps to prevent misconduct occurring. You should consider the following:

Invite everyone

To mitigate accusations of discrimination, it is good practice to invite all employees to the party, including those on maternity, paternity or parental leave, agency staff and part-time and fixed-term workers.
However, you should not force or press people to come. Some employees have family commitments which mean attendance would be very tricky and others may feel uncomfortable for religious or cultural reasons.

Consider the venue

You should ask yourself whether the venue allows under 18s; if it puts off workers of certain religions or sexes; if it can it cater for different dietary requirements and if it is easily accessible for wheelchair users.
Remind employees of what is acceptable behaviour.

If you do not have a policy surrounding behaviour at work events, it is highly advisable to send all employees a memo which reminds them what is expected from them. It may seem like common sense, but unacceptable conduct includes:

  • Violence or threatening behaviour
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Inappropriate behaviour that could bring the company into disrepute
  • Drug use
  • Discriminatory comments or actions based on any of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender assignment, marriage or civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation
  • Harassment
  • Bullying 

You should tell your employees in advance that if any of this behaviour occurs, it will be investigated and may result in disciplinary action.

Think about alcohol consumption

An excess of alcohol can be the biggest headache of all for employers. You should therefore make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks are available and supply enough food to help prevent employees getting drunk.
You should also consider restricting the amount of free alcohol available. Speak to the bar staff to keep an eye on any employees who are over-indulging, and to ensure that employees under 18 are not being served alcohol. Remember that if it appears that you have condoned or encouraged over-consumption of alcohol, it may be difficult to fairly dismiss the employee if they have committed alcohol-related offences.
You should also think about how employees will get home after the party. To prevent people from drinking and driving, you could consider, if the budget allows it, to provide a coach to an accessible or central place at the end of the night. Encourage employees to check when last trains or buses are running and give them phone numbers for registered taxi companies.

Avoid making promises

Managers should avoid talking to their staff about pay increases, promotions or any other similar issues. Even if you don’t entirely remember or just have a vague recollection, the employee may come back to you in the weeks following the party to discuss the promises you made, which can lead to awkward and difficult conversations.

What happens the day after the party?

If you have an expectation for everyone to turn up on time the next morning after the party, you should make this very clear to your employees. You should clearly explain that they may face disciplinary action if they do not attend work the next day because they are too hung over or too tired.

Following these simple points can mean you have a jolly good party and that 2018 does not start with a grievance or Employment Tribunal claim!

For further advice, contact the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association Advisory Service on 0845 226 8393 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and quote “British Sandwich Association” and your membership number email.