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The Office Christmas Party – how to avoid a HR Headache

It’s that time of year when our heads fill up with Christmas cheer, tinsel, presents, cards ...and the office party.

The Office Christmas Party is often an eagerly awaited event, when employees can relax, let their hair down and enjoy each others’company.

Experience, however, does show that there are occasions when the combination of alcohol/illegal drug consumption, relaxed inhibitions and an apparent disregard for the normal standards of conduct inthe workplace can lead to an almighty HR headache.

Why? Because UK employment law is clear. Your office party is an extension of your normal work environment, even if you have your party at a separate venue and outside working hours. This also means that you, as the employer, are responsible for your employees’ festive antics.

Christmas parties are rife with potential problems for employers - from drunken and disorderly behaviour, verbal and/or physical abuse, to unwelcome amorous advances, unauthorised absence the next day, indiscreet posts on Facebook and the legendary misuse of photocopiers...the list is endless.

It therefore stands to reason that employers should be keen to avoid litigation around sexual discrimination and health & safety issues.It might be tempting to call the whole thing off. But, if managed properly, Christmas parties are a good way of socialising with your employees.

As such, it is prudent to give some thought to how you can ensure the festivities go off without a hitch (or an employment tribunal claim).

Here are some measures you can take to reduce your risk: -

  • Make sure your bullying and harassment, equal opportunities, grievance, disciplinary and social media policies are up to date and that employees are aware of their terms.

  • Carry out a risk assessment of the venue in advance of the party to identify any potential hazards – this should include travel to and from the event.Issue advice about travel following the event. Consider arranging transport. If anemployee has an accident on the way home from an office party at which you supplied alcohol, you could be deemed to have been careless if there is a prosecution.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol available.If endless free drink is provided and an employee gets involved in a fight, this could be used as a defence at a tribunal.

  • Encourage managers to limit their own alcohol consumption, in order to keep a clear head and set a good example.

  • Advise your managers to avoid discussing employment matters like salary, promotion or even prospects in such an informal setting, as the expectations created will be binding even if the manager does not remember the conversation.

  • 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.

  • Encourage staff to book a day’s holiday if they think they may not be fit enough to drive or work the next day.

  • Investigate all allegations of discrimination promptly, fairly and in a sensitive manner.

  • Remind employees in advance of the party that while youhope 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. Also, remind them that they are responsible for complying with company procedures and presenting themselves in the best possible way for the company.

Hopefully with the boundaries set and understood in advance the Christmas party will be a very merry one for all involved with no unwelcome headaches for your HR team.

CABLEtalk November Issue

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