The Office Christmas Party

Many employers and their staff will now be looking forward to their firm’s Christmas party. Holding a company event at Christmas is an excellent way to make staff feel valued and to thank them for the past year’s work. As with any staff gathering, however, there are certain precautions it is sensible to take to ensure that the occasion is a happy one and that unfortunate repercussions are avoided. It is important to remember that employers still have responsibilities to their employees at an event organised by the employer, whether it is held in the office or at an outside venue.

Firstly, employers still have a responsibility to ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, the health and safety of their employees. It is sensible to carry out a risk assessment of the venue – even if the party is being held in the office – taking particular note of the risks associated with serving alcohol. It is important to make sure that soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages, are available and to consider whether staff will be able to get home safely afterwards.

There are several other important points to consider:

  • Consider whether any aspect of the event could potentially be discriminatory. For example, reasonable adjustments should be made, if necessary, to ensure the venue is accessible to any employees with disabilities, and there should be food and drink on offer to cater to any employees of a particular religion or with particular beliefs;
  • If your Christmas party is open to spouses and partners of employees, make sure there are no restrictions on who is invited which could give rise to a claim of discrimination;
  • If entertainment is to be provided, make sure this will not cause offence to anyone with a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010;
  • The line between ‘banter’ and conduct that could be deemed discriminatory or inappropriate can become blurred, especially towards the end of the night! In the days leading up to the event, it is advisable to remind employees of the importance of complying with the firm’s equal opportunities and anti-harrassment policies. Employers should check that these policies are up to date and that they specifically state that they apply to functions organised by the firm outside working hours;
  • If the day after the party is a working day, it is important to be clear that over-indulgence will not be regarded as a valid excuse for absence from work. It is important not to make accusations without evidence, however – especially since illnesses such as colds and ‘flu are common at this time of year.

It is always sensible to remind employees of their responsibilities in advance of the occasion. It may also be a good opportunity to check that employment contracts are up to date and cover all of the issues that could arise.