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It’s official, the season of the office Christmas party is in full flow, which is more often than not fantastic fun for the employees but can cause a couple of headaches for the HR manager and employers – and not just alcohol-induced ones.

Undoubtedly, everyone wants to have a merry-old time, but there is always the chance of one or two people taking it a step too far and pushing the limits. There are many potential troublesome points for both employees and employers to be aware of; most of which stem from the consumption of alcohol. Such bothersome points include:

  • Excessive alcohol
  • Drug use
  • Getting into fights
  • Drink driving
  • Arguing with the boss
  • Inappropriate behaviour – race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation
  • Sexual behaviour
  • Bullying
  • Horseplay
  • Absences from work the next day

The question is how can you prevent these problems occurring? There are many articles this time of year, which don’t actually give you any practical advice, but below are our expert tips from an employment law perspective to help your office party run as hiccup-free as possible.

  • Pre-Party Guidance & Policies Email

You don’t want to seem like the fun-police but a bit of pre-party guidance may help employees to bear in mind their behaviour and conduct at the Christmas party. In effect, the office party is an extension of the workplace, irrespective of the venue, where employers still have a duty of care for their employees. For this reason, it is very important, as an employer, to cover your back. Topics your email may want to highlight are to consume alcohol responsibly, behave appropriately, arrange transport to and from the venue, social media usage and horseplay.

  • Office Party Policy

Some employers have even been known to draw up a written document for employees to sign beforehand. The aim of the party is to enhance team spirit and reward your hard-working task force, but as there are risks involved a formal policy will help to set out clear guidance on conduct from your employees. Consider getting employees to sign a Christmas Party Attendance Agreement to confirm they understand their behavioural requirements at the event.

  • Avoid Performance-Related Conversations

It comes as no surprise that drinking alcohol leads people to lose certain inhibitions, including what they say. The best advice is for managers to avoid all conversations regarding performance, promotions, salaries and career potential. Such conversations can quite readily cause issues later on when the employee believes they were promised a significant pay rise, or good intentions on the managers’ behalf were misinterpreted.

On the other end of the spectrum to promoting an employee is disciplining them; best practice to avoid disciplining any employees at the party itself. If necessary, send the employee home and deal with the situation when back at the office.

  • Next-Day Absences

It’s important to be very clear about the expectations of the company in regards to absences the next day. Clear expectations = no excuses. If expectations are breached when it comes to lateness or altogether absence, then disciplinary action may follow. One to watch out for is employees who turn up to work still under the influence of alcohol, particularly if they will be driving a company vehicle or operating machinery. Hosting a party on a Friday may solve next-day absence issues for many employers, but for those who run a business that operates over the weekend, be clear on what you expect.

  • Being Sensitive To Employee Needs & Beliefs

The first point on this is not to insist all staff members attend the Christmas party, after all Christmas is a Christian holiday so some employees may not want to attend on religious grounds. Others may not wish to come personal they have family responsibilities, particularly if it is out of hours.

If food is being served, always ask beforehand about dietary requirements whether it is for religious purposes or allergies, so this can be accommodated for. Also, however crazy it may seem to some, it is highly possible that some people just don’t drink.

  • Limit Free Alcohol

Most issues arise from this most potent of beverages, it’s therefore a good idea to limit the amount of free alcohol available. Couple this with plenty of soft drinks and make sure there is food available. Unlimited alcohol can sometimes push people to “fill their boots” and over-indulge, which can then create unnecessary problems.

Contact our Employment Team if you require any legal advice in dealing with the issues above or any other enquiries. Call us on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com.