It’s nearly that time of year, the work Christmas party. If it goes well any headaches will quickly ease with a few ibuprofen, if it goes wrong then the headaches will linger much longer and may be far more serious than you could imagine. 

Set the right tone 

As well as thinking about the venue, the menu choices and what to wear, it is important that employers think about setting the right tone for the work Christmas party and this should start well ahead of the actual party date. A Christmas party, or any other work related social gathering for that matter, should be inclusive and so you should invite all employees, including those who are absent or who normally refrain from drinking whether you think they are going to attend or not. Making assumptions and leaving people out could constitute bullying or even discrimination. You should also think about the day on which your party is going to take place. If the day after your party is usually a normal working day then consider closing for the day instead or maybe opening later. That way you can avoid staff attending work whilst not in a fit state or calling in sick at the last minute due to the after effects of the night before. The majority of problems at a work Christmas party occur due to people drinking excess alcohol which means that they lose their judgement and inhibitions completely which can lead to inappropriate behaviour on the night. With that in mind is a free bar really such a good idea? You might want to be a generous employer and a free bar is one way of showing that, but could you use the money to buy everyone a gift or to give them all a small bonus instead? Whilst nobody wants to be Scrooge it is helpful to remind employees that the event is still work related and that levels of professionalism and acceptable behaviour are therefore expected.  

Dealing with problems 

Hopefully your work Christmas party will be a great success, everyone will enjoy themselves and remember the night for all the right reasons. If there is any form of misconduct on the night though then as an employer you should take a considered and consistent approach based on your company policies. It may be the issues can be nipped in the bud before they get out of hand. If you notice that someone has had a bit too much to drink, that behaviour is becoming an issue or that the tone and content of conversations is starting to slip then having a quiet word with those involved may be all that is required to get things back on track for a party that everyone is able to enjoy. You might also consider asking an employee to leave early and you can even call them a taxi if needed. In the unfortunate event of misconduct escalating though you should deal with it after the event. It would be impossible to write a list of issues which may happen but the more common ones includes fighting, bullying, damage to property, sexual harassment, discrimination and taking illegal drugs. As you would in any other work situation when everyone is back at work gather statements, consider if suspension is appropriate and carry out a full and thorough process in line with your company’s disciplinary policy.  

Is it really my problem? 

In short, yes, the party is an extension of the workplace and so as an employer you are responsible for dealing with issues and could be liable for the actions of your employees. There have been a number of employment tribunal cases which relate to incidents at and after work Christmas parties which have established interesting case law. In the case of Bhara v Ikea Mr Bhara was outside the work party smoking when he was involved in a physical altercation with a colleague, the employer decided to dismiss Mr Bhara and the decision was upheld at tribunal even though his conduct had previously been good and both parties had engaged in what was described as a “tussle”. The case of Gimson v Display By Design highlighted that events after a work Christmas party has finished could still result in disciplinary action. Mr Gimson was walking home with colleagues when an argument started and he then punched a colleague who was trying to calm things down, causing them serious injury. Mr Gimson was dismissed and the tribunal found that as these colleagues were together as a result of the party that it was sufficiently closely connected to work for disciplinary action to be taken and also that the dismissal was a reasonable response. Livesey v Parker Merchanting Ltd found that the employer was vicariously liable for the actions of its employee who had sexually harassed the claimant both during the work Christmas party and afterwards in a car on the journey home. Again, the tribunal found that this harassment took place in the course of employment despite part of it being after the work event and the employee was successful in her claim. 

Remember that in the overwhelming majority of cases your work Christmas party will pass off without incident, everyone will enjoy the celebration and hopefully it will contribute towards positive staff morale, increased team work and collaboration and high levels of employee engagement. 

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Why not also check out our blog on a similar topic Christmas Parties

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