Preparing for Christmas – best practice

With the celebrations for the summer games coming to an end, our thoughts turn to some aspects of year end planning.  For many businesses this often includes early planning and booking for celebrating the approaching year end and the company party season. But beware as this can lead to a number of problems…

Every year there are warnings to employers about the pitfalls of Christmas parties.  This is not surprising as the following statistics reveal that:

  • Half of parties end up with colleagues fighting
  • One in three parties result in incidents of sexual harassment
  • One in five parties see accidents involving employees
  • Three out of four bosses say that a member of staff had threatened to take a case to an employment tribunal following bad behaviour at a Christmas party.

This does not mean that we should ‘cancel’ Christmas, but here are a few important guidelines:

  • Set the party boundaries. Inform staff that a minimum level of good behaviour is expected and remind them that the office grievance and disciplinary procedures apply equally to off-site events.
  • Investigate. Much of the case law in this area has arisen where employers have failed to take complaints seriously. Complaints must be investigated in the same way as you would any other workplace grievance, with follow up disciplinary action if necessary.
  • Step back. If an employee does overstep the mark, then wait until afterwards to have a word in the sober light of day. Though it may be appropriate to send an employee home, don’t be tempted to deal with the matter in detail at the time and particularly not in front of other employees.
  • Managers beware. Avoid discussions about pay and performance, and do not make promises that may come back to bite you.
  • Discrimination pitfalls. If the party is to be outside of work hours bear in mind that it may mean that employees with families cannot attend because of child care. If partners are being invited include civil as well as married partners.
  • Think about your menu. Ask beforehand about dietary requirements. Certain groups will not eat some foods. Also ensure there is a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks available. If you are providing a free bar, keep an eye out for employees drinking excessively.
  • Journey home. You have a duty of care towards employees, so where alcohol is involved take steps to prevent them driving home – it may be worth arranging transport home or at least having local cab numbers available.
  • The morning after. If you are expecting staff to attend work, make it clear in advance what will be tolerated in terms of absence and latecomers together with the consequences of non-attendance.