It's the most wonderful time of the year (as Andy Williams would have it) and employers the length and breath of the country are preparing for the institution that is the office Christmas party.
The Christmas party is often an eagerly awaited event where staff are rewarded for their hard work through out the year and encouraged to relax, let their hair down and enjoy each others company, and there is no reason why that should not be the case.
However experience does show that there are occasions when the combination of alcohol consumption, relaxed inhibitions and an apparent disregard for the normal standards of conduct in the workplace, can lead to a range of HR headaches.
The trouble for employers can arise from the fact that that from an employment law perspective, the Christmas party is effectively an extension of the workplace and employers are likely to be deemed liable for the acts of their employees at the Christmas party. As such, it is prudent for employers to give some prior thought to how they can ensure that the festivities go off without a hitch (or an employment tribunal claim).
Top tips for employers are as follows:
Code of Conduct
Remind employees in advance of the party that while you hope they really enjoy themselves, there are certain standards of conduct which must be adhered to in order to ensure that everyone has a good time. Clearly state that drunken and / or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse, harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature and unauthorised absence the day after the party are strictly prohibited and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action.
Be considerate in the way in which you plan the party. Remember that not all religions celebrate Christmas so don't put undue pressure on anyone to attend the party. Ensure that the venue is suitable for disabled employees and that any special dietary requirements are noted in advance and catered for.
Be aware that if you provide free alcohol, you may not be entitled to hold employees accountable for inappropriate drunken behaviour. If you are going to provide free alcohol you should place a limit on the amount provided and it's also a good idea to make sure that there is plenty of food available through out the night. It is also important to respect those who choose not to drink alcohol either for religious reasons or through personal choice. Ensure that there are plenty of non-alcoholic drink options.
Be aware of the likelihood of pictures and videos from the party being posted on social media. Make sure your employees know exactly what your rules are regarding the use of social media in relation to work and work related events.
Make sure that your bullying and harassment, equal opportunities, grievance, disciplinary and social media polices are up to date and that employees have been reminded of their terms.
Christmas party romance
It is not uncommon for office romances to blossom at the Christmas party. Be clear on what your stance is on office relationships, particularly if they are between a line manager and their direct report. Do you require such relationships to be disclosed? If so be ready to follow up on this if necessary.
Hopefully with the boundaries set and understood in advance the Christmas party will be a very merry one for all involved with no unwanted hangovers for HR!