Whilst it may be the most wonderful time of the year, the Christmas season can cause headaches for employers and not just the morning after the Christmas party…
There is a common misconception that as the Christmas party takes place outside of work hours and/or the workplace, the normal rules of the workplace do not apply. However, employees attending such events are treated as doing so ‘in the course of their employment’ and, as a result, employers will be responsible for their employees’ actions and could face liability for incidents such as harassment, discrimination or assault.

Employers should therefore take certain steps to minimise the risk of any potential claims and to ensure – as far as possible – that everyone has an enjoyable, festive and problem free party.
The following points are worth considering:

  • Acceptable behaviour – Employees should be reminded of the company’s rules on acceptable behaviour, with references being made to the applicable policies (including any Bullying and Harassment policy, Drug and Alcohol policy and the Disciplinary and Grievance procedure). Employees should be informed that any inappropriate behaviour, unwanted conduct or any other breach of company policies will be dealt with in the same manner as if it had occurred during working time.
  • Religious and cultural values – Remember Christmas is a Christian holiday; not all employees will celebrate Christmas and may therefore not wish to participate in the festivities or attend the party. Therefore, whilst all employees should be invited, no pressure should be placed on employees to attend the party or participate in any other Christmas events (e.g. Secret Santa). In addition, the employer should ensure that food and drink is available at the party which complies with employees’ religious and cultural requirements.
  • Avoid discrimination: All employees should be invited to the Christmas party, including those currently away from the office (e.g. those on maternity leave). Further, if the invitation is being extended to employees’ partners, this should include all partners, whether married, same sex or otherwise. The employer should also ensure that the venue has suitable access for any disabled employees.
  • Effect of alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to lower standards of conduct, which may result in lewd or discriminatory comments and inappropriate behaviour. Accordingly, employers may wish to consider limiting or capping the level of free or discounted alcohol available and should ensure that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks on offer. Further, in order to comply with their duty of care, employers should take steps to ensure that employees can get home safely after the event
  • The morning after: Employers should be clear as to their expectations of employees the day after the Christmas party. If disciplinary action is to be taken for any unauthorised absences, the employer should be sure to investigate the matter and confirm that the absence was not a as result of genuine sickness before taking any disciplinary action.

Christmas parties are a great way to reward employees for their hard work and to encourage good working relationships and should be fun for all. If you have any questions on the above or would like to discuss any employment issues – whether relating to Christmas parties or otherwise – please contact Sarah Luxmoore.