Winter is coming, and that means so is the office Christmas party. To avoid your party turning into something akin to Game of Thrones’ ‘Red Wedding’, Chris Hendry, an Associate at Viberts, has prepared some guidance for employers and employees to ensure they stay off the naughty list.
Whilst a Christmas party is one of the best ways to thank your employees for their hard work during the year and recognise your collective success, it is important that staff wellbeing is considered, and that employers and employees alike are aware of the potential consequences of their Christmas party conduct.
Last minute Christmas party considerations
- Set the ground rules: the consequences of any unacceptable behaviour should be made clear before the party. The easiest way of doing this might be to email staff before the party reminding them that relevant workplace policies such as the harassment policy continue to apply and that you will take action under your disciplinary policy if necessary.
- Considered everyone’s needs: will the timing and location of the party allow for those who need to arrange childcare to take part? Will disabled staff need assistance to get to or access the party venue? Will the food provided meet all employees’ religious and cultural requirements.
- Thought about social media: as an employer do you want the reputation of your organisation damaged with photographs of staff in party mode, looking worse for wear or, the embarrassment of inappropriate messages being uploaded.
- Considered how you will manage absenteeism: “Boss I might work from home today”. Have a consistent policy regarding post-party absenteeism. All managers must be consistent the morning after the party.
Christmas party conduct
As employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their staff, in relation to discrimination or personal injury, the cost of the Christmas party can be a lot more than the bar bill. When it comes to festive celebrations, even if an event is held outside the normal working hours and workplace, an employer can still be held liable for its staff’s conduct.
In any situation drinking excessively impairs our judgement and lowers inhibitions. At the Christmas party this could result in a range of unwanted gifts, including employees engaging in office gossip or ‘banter’ which could be considered offensive, raising resentments with colleagues and bosses over work related issues, or even making unwelcome advances and gestures.
To limit the occurrence of inappropriate behaviour, we recommend that employers:
- Limit the amount of free alcohol available.
- Limit or not provide hard spirits.
- Ensure that soft drinks or alcohol-free alternatives are readily available
- Consider nominating a member of the management team to remain sober to deal with any incidents that do arise and to keep an eye out for any behaviour that might escalate.
If any incidents do occur, and they can’t be resolved informally, ensure these are dealt with in line with your grievance and disciplinary policies and procedures.
The after party
The risks don’t stop for employers once the party stops. Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law 1989. They could potentially be responsible for employee’s conduct after leaving the Christmas party as well.
Employees who have consumed alcohol must not be permitted to drive home and consideration should be given in relation to arranging transport (such as coaches or taxis) to make sure employees have a safe option to get home.
‘Secret Santa’ has become a staple for many offices. Despite its popularity, most employers do not have guidance in place in relation to what is an appropriate or inappropriate gift for colleagues.
What one person may find humorous; another may find extremely offensive. It is the recipient’s response which is the all-important test for the tribunal.
Making Viberts naughty list in terms of gifts includes:
- Hygiene products e.g., toothbrushes, deodorant, or female sanitary products.
- Items of a sexual nature, including phallic-themed chocolate
- Underwear (edible or otherwise).
If an employee is gifted an item which could be discriminatory in nature, there is the potential for employers to face discrimination claims. By way of a reminder the protected characteristics under Jersey law are race, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity and disability. Employees can also face personal liability for discriminatory acts.
As we prepare for further cost of living increases and a potential recession, some employees may feel pressured to participate when they simply cannot afford to this year. Employers should make it clear that participation is optional, and that each employee has given clear consent that they want to join in. We recommend a maximum spend limit (for example £10 or £15) to ensure participation does not place further financial strain on those who are already struggling.
Given the risks, is it all worth it? Yes, we think so. Whilst the above offers a potentially negative overview of office festive celebrations, there can be a multitude of benefits to hosting a Christmas party for your employees. With careful planning and clear guidance and policies in place, your event can be a great success and a great way to round off another year.
Christmas can be a frantic time for businesses so here are some final thoughts before you start driving home for Christmas:
- Christmas office hours: many organisations shut down for a period between the end of December and early January. If your workplace closes its doors for the festive period, you will need to let customers and clients know. Ensure consistent out of office messages are in place.
- Christmas Eve: it is important to let employees know what time they can finish work on Christmas Eve. Many employers allow staff to finish early but if this is not something you can or want to do ensure you communicate this clearly so your employees can plan accordingly.
- Christmas is not for everyone: not everyone celebrates Christmas. Be sensitive when organising Secret Santa/Christmas, jumper day, etc. If you have a mix of cultures in your workplace celebrating all the relevant events and customs such as Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and Pesach can be a brilliant way to bring your team together.
Chris Hendry joined Viberts in January 2021 as a Scottish Solicitor and he was promoted to Senior Associate in February 2022. He specialises in high profile and complex employment matters and data protection law.
Chris advises senior executives, private businesses and public sector entities on all aspects of employment and data protection law.