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As office workers gear up for the festive party season...
09 Dec 2016

As office workers gear up for the festive party season, FBC Manby Bowdler employment specialist Tracy Worthington has some timely advice to make sure the Christmas spirit doesn’t spiral out of control.

“No-one wants to be a scrooge but employers and their workers need to be aware that a festive party is an extension of the workplace. That means that all the usual standards of behaviour still apply.

“One of the latest festive films is the new Jennifer Aniston comedy – Office Christmas Party – that chronicles the disasters that occur at an event in an attempt to impress a potential client and close a sale. Of course, it’s fictitious and completely over the top but it still sends the same message that companies should be aware of potential pitfalls before the office celebrations get underway.

“Unfortunately once you add alcohol into the mix, anything can happen and employees need to know that they could still face disciplinary hearings or dismissal if their behaviour falls below this standard. Social events are a great way of bringing people together and rewarding the team, but employers must make it clear that any bad behaviour or misconduct will result in action.”

Amber said there are other issues employers should be aware of:

Vicarious Liability
Physical or verbal disagreements could easily occur when the alcohol flows and there is the potential for an employer to be held responsible for the behaviour of their staff during a Christmas party.

Although a judge recently found that a company wasn’t liable for the injuries caused to an employee during a drinking session after a work party, he said the firm could have been responsible if it happened during the social event.

Health and Safety
If an employer is putting on a Christmas party, they still have a duty of care to their staff. Any venue should be risk assessed so employers don’t leave themselves open to claims.

“Employers should also take all necessary precautions if decorating their own workplace over the festive period, for instance providing step ladders for those putting up decorations and ensuring that any decorations are safe and do not block any fire exits.

Verbal or sexual harassment is something that may be more likely to occur at a Christmas party rather than at any other point in the year. It is a good idea to have a number of managers tasked with keeping a sober eye on things and making sure that any problems are nipped in the bud before they escalate.

Any grievances that are raised following a Christmas party or any other work-related social event must be treated no differently than at any other time. It is essential that employers deal with such complaints in a timely and sensitive manner and in line with their normal grievance procedures.

If your Christmas party is open to partners, make sure that employees are aware that includes same sex partners and there is suitable access and facilities for disabled people.

Employers should remember that not all of their employees will celebrate Christmas and care should be taken to ensure that no employees feel excluded or uncomfortable with any activities that have religious connotations.

Social media
The popularity of social networking such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook means that employee’s drunken or bad behaviour may get into the public domain and result in negative publicity for your business. Make sure that staff realise that whenever they are representing your business, or can be associated with it in some way, for instance by wearing an employee name badge or via information on their social media profile, then their behaviour could have an impact on the reputation of the business.

In this day and age, it is advisable for almost all employers have a specific social media policy in place to protect themselves against such risks and to make it clear that activity on social media which could adversely affect the reputation of the business may result in disciplinary action.

Unauthorised absence
The party could result in some sore heads the next day, so make sure that employees are aware that unauthorised absences or ‘sickies’ will be dealt with and could lead to disciplinary action.

At the same time, employers must be mindful again of their health and safety obligations, particularly where employees drive or operate machinery. Instances of employees attending work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, must be treated extremely seriously to ensure they do not endanger the health and safety of themselves or others at work.

Click here to find out more about the Employment Law Services offered by FBC Manby Bowdler.

Meet Tracy Worthington