The office Christmas party: Employer responsibilities

The office Christmas party is the highlight of the year. Your employees are busy planning and getting excited about the festivities, but do you know what responsibility you have as an employer?

At this time of year, your calendar quickly fills up with invites to festive dinners, cocktail parties and corporate Christmas events. As an employer, you may be organising your own function and planning a night of fun for your employees. However, you may have many questions – how much control do you have over your employees? Are you responsible for their actions outside of work hours? Should you even try to get them in on time the morning after?

These are all questions that surprisingly have a legal basis, which is why the employment law team at Foys Solicitors have put together a handy guide on where you stand and what you should do to prepare for the big night.

Employer obligations

The first thing to remember is that as an employer, you have a duty of care towards your staff. Under the Equality Act 2010, you are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation committed by your employees. In other words, you are responsible for ensuring that they behave appropriately, even outside normal working hours.

Any social event organised by the employer is, in essence, an ‘extension of the workplace’. Without proper planning, attention to detail and legitimate workplace policy, your party can quickly turn into an HR nightmare. So, before you pop the champagne, you must be prepared and aware of any employment issues that could arise as an unwanted Christmas surprise.

Workplace policy

Office parties are legally considered to be work, even if they are held outside of office hours and away from your base of operations. As such, your responsibilities as an employer still hold. Any actions conducted under what is legally defined as ‘the course of employment’ are what you should be keeping your eye on.

The best way to manage this is to ensure that your workplace policy is clearly visible and seen by all staff prior to and during the event. An email highlighting expected behaviour before the big night probably wouldn’t go amiss either. A gentle reminder of the rules is often more than enough to keep staff from behaving too wildly, with the added benefit of showing them clear boundaries, where they can still have fun. You can emphasise any unacceptable behaviours, such as:

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and drunkenness
  • Drug-use
  • Any discrimination or harassment
  • Violence, verbal abuse and inappropriate language

Making sure all managers are aware of the workplace policy will also help maintain rules of conduct and minimise any inappropriate conduct. You can designate a member of staff to be on the lookout for such behaviour on the night.


Although Christmas is the perfect time to let your hair down and celebrate the successes of the year, businesses should be aware that office parties can often go awry due to excessive alcohol consumption and high emotions. A lot of Christmas parties offer free, unlimited drinks, which can encourage excessive drinking and result in an employee doing something they will regret later.

If you plan on having a free bar, consider limiting the number of drinks staff can order before needing to purchase them. Giving out a set number of free drinks tokens can set a ‘soft’ limit, encouraging them to stop before they become too intoxicated. You can also appoint someone who isn’t drinking to be a ‘defuser’ of escalating and potentially inflammatory situations.

Finally, make sure you include snacks and entertainment around the room – with nothing else to do, attendees will naturally gravitate towards the bar. Having other options can reduce the amount they drink.

In addition, you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees, including any making sure they get home without incident. If there are difficulties getting there and back, organise taxis or have phone numbers readily available – ensure that there are alternative options for those who are too drunk to drive. Don’t forget that they need to be in work the next day, perhaps not entirely free of hangovers but well enough to work. Planning ahead is vital.

Be considerate to your guests

A Christmas party should be suitable for everyone and taking into account the special needs of your staff is of paramount importance. Your aim is to get all of your invited employees to come and enjoy themselves, and for that to happen, you cannot afford to miss out on any requirements that would otherwise hinder their enjoyment.

Dietary requirements are one of the most important things to think about. Fortunately, most of the foods prohibited for religious reasons are meats or animal products like eggs, so it’s important to include vegetarian and vegan options for your guests. Similarly, make sure there are non-alcoholic beverage options for those who do not drink alcohol. This option will also encourage staff to remain sober.

Make sure that the venue is suitable for employees with disabilities. Accessibility is a top priority when considering staff who use a wheelchair or need assistance getting to the venue. Failure to consider these factors may limit who can attend and cause potential claims of discrimination. At Christmas, it is important that you consider everyone’s needs.

If you are allowing employees to bring their partners, you cannot discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or marital status; invitations must be open to all. In addition, remember that Christmas is a Christian holiday and as such, some may choose not to observe or celebrate it due to their religious beliefs. This is a normal part of the holiday season, and many may choose to celebrate their holidays separately.

What if things go wrong?

If the worst comes to worst, and you need to talk with an employee about misconduct, contact our employment law team at Foys before you have the discussion. We can advise you on how best to proceed and help you to solve the issue as efficiently as possible. Our mediation services can also assist with resolving the issue out of court, far away from any expensive legal fees.

To find out more about how we can keep you partying the right way, fill out our Online Form or get in touch with your local office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

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