According to a recent survey two thirds of employers do not have a policy in place setting out standards of acceptable employee behaviour at their Christmas party. Those employers responding to the survey who had experienced problems at their last Christmas party indicated that most of these problems centred on violent and aggressive behaviour as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. Complaints of unwanted advances, sexual or racial discrimination and drunken injuries are also fairly common.
As I work mainly with small businesses I am conscious that recommending reams of policies for everything is neither necessary nor appropriate, so I’m not going to recommend everyone gets a formal Christmas Party Policy drafted. I would hope that in most cases employees are fully aware from existing policies that violent/discriminatory/harassing behaviour is not acceptable, and wouldn’t assume those policies don’t apply at a Christmas do. Nor can I see someone changing their mind about assaulting someone because they suddenly remember the Christmas Party Policy says they shouldn’t.
Having said that, if you’re planning to organise some Christmas festivities for your staff, thinking about some of the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them is a good idea.
Your staff have a right to enjoy the party free from discrimination on the grounds of (among others) sex, age, religion, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. When organising the party and festive activities, just bear that in mind to ensure that no group is excluded or loses out in any way. Consider food, drink, entertainment, venue and all aspects of Christmas celebrations. If you’re not sure whether something you’re planning might be considered discriminatory, take some advice to be sure.
Duty of care
You have a duty of care towards your staff and company Christmas parties certainly ‘count’ for these purposes, on or off company premises. If you’re going to be supplying or allowing alcohol consumption, think about how to ensure staff can get home safely, for example.
Consider how you will ensure staff are protected from unacceptable alcohol-fuelled antics of other team members. As well as making it clear that violent/harassing/discriminatory behaviour is unacceptable beforehand, ensuring you spot and deal with incidents or potential incidents very quickly is important.
Be aware that you remain responsible for employees’ actions during and even after a company Christmas party so accidents caused by excessive drinking at a Christmas party could present an unwelcome legal battle.
‘Cover’ yourself by reminding employees of any rules/policies you currently have in place which deal with acceptable behaviour during or after the party, which could include paragraphs in employment contract, your disciplinary policy, your Health and Safety policy and documents you may have on sickness absence, bullying and harassment, dignity at work and alcohol and drug consumption.
Ensure you have plenty of non-alcoholic drink available.
You know your staff and if you give it some consideration beforehand, you can be sensible about anticipating and minimising risks to yourself and your employees without being a party pooper!