The Office Christmas Party: Jingle Bells or Alarm Bells??

office-partyMary Gavin, Associate Solicitor in the Employment Law department of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors has provided us with this guest blog on some steps employers should take to ensure an incident-free Christmas party _____________________________________________________________________________________

As the festive season fast approaches, many employers and employees look forward to enjoying a Christmas dinner with colleagues ……at the expense of the boss!

Most parties pass off without incident, (perhaps the odd blush) but others can have dramatic consequences which not only sour the party mood but can jeopardise an employee’s livelihood.
The relaxed atmosphere may prompt individuals to behave in a way which would never arise or be tolerated in the workplace. They may act inappropriately towards another colleague whether by unwanted advances or aggressive conduct. They may harass another colleague under the guise of “banter” or perhaps attend the workplace the following morning whilst still under the influence.

So, what can you do as an employer to prevent bad behaviour from your staff at the Christmas office party?

Prior to the office Christmas party, an employer should provide a clear policy on the standards of behaviour expected and what kinds of behaviour are unacceptable.  It may seem that reiterating that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated is stating the obvious however, the old adage of when “the drink’s in the wit’s out” couldn’t be more relevant at this time of year.  A reminder should be given in writing that instances of misconduct will not be tolerated at a work-related events and employees should be left in no doubt that such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action or potentially dismissal.

On the issue of alcohol, an employer should consider monitoring employees’ intake of alcohol not only if an individual appears to have had “one too many” but to ensure that the intended generosity is not used as an aggravating factor which the employee holds the employer responsible for.

No one wants to put a dampener on the festivities,  but employers should be aware that they can be held liable for the acts of their employees if an act is deemed to have been committed in the course of employment.   An office Christmas party is inextricably linked to employment so caution must be exercised.  Consideration should also be given to how individuals are getting home and appropriate advice or arrangements made.

The above is not an exhaustive guide as to the steps that can be taken to prevent employees from behaving inappropriately and it should be borne in mind that a potential Tribunal case will not only be brought against the perpetrator of the behaviour but also the employer.  Having a clear policy in place is evidence that reasonable steps were taken by an employer to prevent inappropriate behaviour from occurring.

Any employer is loath to turn a celebratory event which is ultimately an acknowledgment of employees’ hard work throughout the year into something where an employee could risk facing disciplinary sanctions!  But staff should be aware that they must conduct themselves at the same level of any work-related event. In short, just because it is a “party” it does not mean it is an exception to the usual policies and procedures that would apply in the workplace.

MGavinMary Gavin is an Associate with Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors. If you have any queries in relation to any employment law matter she can be contacted on 90234901 or at mgavin@fhanna.co.uk

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