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The Christmas Party - "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

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Hosting a Christmas party is a great way to reward staff for their loyalty and performance over the preceding year as well as providing staff with the opportunity to bond. However, whether held during or outside of working hours, Christmas parties can often be a minefield for managers.

In the run up to Christmas we often get asked how a party can be hosted without fear of an employment law hangover. Perhaps not surprisingly the most common question we get asked after a party is how to handle misconduct that has allegedly taken place.

This article sets out advice on how to survive the festive period and ensure that everyone still has a jolly good time.

“Deck the Halls”

It is a myth that putting up Christmas decorations breaches health and safety legislation. Practices should feel free to deck their halls – but a risk assessment should be carried out.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“ 

Even if a party takes place after normal working hours any conduct is still highly likely to be ‘during the course of employment’ and should be dealt with by Practices accordingly.

Unfortunately alcohol intake is often a contributory factor to unacceptable behaviour. Limiting the amount of alcohol available, providing non-alcoholic beverages and providing food will help reduce the likelihood of misconduct occurring.  But incidents happen even without alcohol consumption as spirits remain high and as such managers would be wise to issue a reminder to staff about expected standards of behaviour and the consequences for failing to meet these.  This does not mean that a policy needs to be devised as a simple memo to all staff will suffice.

In particular staff should be informed:-

  • That misconduct will be treated in the same way as if it had occurred during normal working hours.
  • What constitutes unacceptable conduct with reference to specific examples such as fighting, bringing the Practice’s name into disrepute etc.
  • Of the other relevant policies setting out the expected standards of behaviour such as the Practice’s anti-harassment and bullying policy.
  • What action will be taken if misconduct is alleged (this will invariably be disciplinary action).
  • Of the consequences for failing to attend work the following day if the party takes place during the Practice’s working week.

Dealing with alleged misconduct at an office party is no different to dealing with it at any other time. Prompt action should be taken but the individual should not be disciplined at the event.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Managers should avoid discussing career opportunities, prospects and remuneration at all costs. Unfortunately even words of encouragement could be misconstrued.

There have been various cases pursued by workers alleging that promises of a pay rise, promotion etc. have been made during a party and there is the potential for a promise made at a Christmas party to be legally binding.

“Do they know it’s Christmas?” 

Christmas parties should be as inclusive as possible to avoid potential discrimination claims. When planning the event consider whether the date clashes with any other religious dates or whether the date/time will mean that some individuals, usually women, are disproportionately less able to attend.

We also recommend against excluding anyone for example those who are on sick leave, paternity or maternity leave etc. However do not insist that everyone attends a Christmas party. Christmas is a Christian holiday so Practices will need to be mindful that not everyone will want to attend possibly as a result of their religious beliefs or because of their family commitments particularly if the party is being held outside of normal working hours.

I hope that you have a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Employers who have queries regarding the above should contact Sally Morris at sally.morris@mfgsolicitors.com or on 01905 734032.

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