Having a Christmas party can be a brilliant way to thank your staff for all their hard work during the year, and to give the whole team the chance to socialise together and enjoy each other's company. As with any work event, however, there are possible pitfalls and it's important that you don't overlook your responsibilities towards employees.
An employer can be held liable for acts carried out by their employees 'in the course of employment', and the Christmas party is likely to qualify as a work event. For this reason, it is important to remind staff of the standards of behaviour expected, and warn them that inappropriate conduct will be dealt with in the same way as it would in the workplace.
Other important steps you should take are:
- Choose the date for the party carefully. Make sure it doesn't clash with religious festivals such as the Islamic New Year or Hanukkah;
- Carry out a risk assessment. This should take into account the venue and, in particular, the risks associated with alcohol consumption;
- Make sure the event is inclusive. Remember to invite staff who have been absent on maternity leave or long-term sick leave, for example. If your employees' partners are invited, this should be extended to unmarried and same-sex couples. Ensure the venue is accessible to staff or partners with disabilities. Soft drinks should be available as well as alcoholic drinks, and if food is provided, make sure that there are options for vegetarians and those with religious or other dietary requirements;
- Ensure staff appreciate the difference between 'banter' and behaviour that could be considered humiliating or degrading to co-workers. Remind employees that workplace equal treatment and anti-harassment policies apply to the party. If such behaviour occurs, take quick action to prevent it re-occurring or escalating. Act promptly if a complaint is received;
- Make employees aware that any illegal acts will not be tolerated;
- Consider how to make sure your staff can get home safely – you may wish to provide taxis or hire transport;
- If employees are expected to work the following day, make sure they know that absence due to over-indulgence or turning up to work hung over is likely to be regarded as a disciplinary matter.
Your policies and your contracts of employment will probably deal with these issues, but it is advisable to have a specific policy on work social events, and to remind employees to be aware of it.