Colleagues wearing Christmas hats and clinking champagne glasses

The end of the year is fast approaching, and your employees are planning the ever-present Christmas party. How much control do you hold over what they do? 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 enough have a legal basis, which is why the employment law team at Foys Solicitors can show you exactly where you stand and what you should do.

How does the workplace policy apply?

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. This means that you are responsible for ensuring that they behave appropriately. Office parties are legally considered to be work, even if they are held outside of office hours and far away from your base of operations, and 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 and to bring attention to the policy before the party. A gentle reminder of the rules is often enough to keep staff from behaving too inappropriately and reminds them of the boundaries lay between having fun and crossing the line.

Take responsibility for alcohol intake

Having a member of staff make unwise and possibly dangerous decisions while intoxicated is often a significant cause for concern for an office party planner, especially the employer. As the employer, you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees, including any accidents that may occur from any alcohol-induced behaviour.

If you plan on having a bar, consider limiting the number of drinks staff can order. One thing you can do is establish a rule that says the first two drinks are free and any additional will need to be bought. You can also appoint someone who isn’t drinking to be a ‘defuser’ of escalating and potentially dangerous situations.

Regarding driving under the influence, ensure that there are alternative options for those who are too drunk to drive home. Finally, make sure you also include snacks and entertainment around the room – with nothing else to do, attendees will naturally gravitate towards the bar. Having other options to divert their attention can reduce the amount they drink.

Be considerate to your guests

A Christmas party should be suitable for everyone, and taking into account the preferences 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 any requirements that would otherwise hinder their enjoyment.

Dietary requirements are one of the most important things to think about. 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.

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. It is not acceptable to force someone to attend if they do not wish to for religious reasons, and you cannot legally do so.

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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