08 Dec 2017

The staff Christmas party. T'is the season to be responsible?

How many people woke up with a hangover this morning from their staff Christmas party last night? Hopefully a hangover is the worst that you have to deal with the next day in the office, unless you were smart enough to take today off....

Hangover staff Christmas party. Employment Lawyer. Discipline.

If you are an employer hosting a Christmas event with staff you will want to give them a chance to let their hair down. But if you are already having nightmares of alcohol-fuelled brawls, inappropriate behaviour and your 2018 Budget slipping out over a few too many glasses of prosecco, you will probably be wondering, how can I control staff behaviour at the Christmas party? 

With the alcohol flowing, and the work-play lines blurred, Christmas parties are often a 'trigger' to bad behaviour, and the after-effects can linger on long into the new year if you don't set expectations with your staff. The best way to do this is through a work-related social events policy, a robust social media and disciplinary policy. Some content you may want to include would be:

  • Stating that staff should consume alcohol in moderation at work-related social events, irrespective of whether the organisation provides or pays for the drinks (this would be supported by offering non-alcoholic drink options at all events);

  • Reiteration of the organisation's policy on harassment/bulling is important, and staff should be made aware that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and they should not say or do anything that could offend, intimidate, embarrass, humiliate or upset any other person, whether intended as a joke or not. In Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs and Others the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the employer was liable for the sexual harassment of a police officer that took place during social gatherings of colleagues in a pub. The scenario in which the harassment occurred was described by the EAT as "social gatherings involving officers from work either immediately after work or for an organised leaving party". This meant that this gathering could be described as an "extension of employment". In the case of Gimson v Display By Design Ltd it was found that even events which occur after a party are "sufficiently closely connected to work" - in this case a walk home with a colleague after the Christmas Party;

  • Employees must not behave in a way that could bring the organisation's name into disrepute, and this would include posting inappropriate photos on social media. Including a reference to a social media policy here would be complementary.

Where a social event can be classed as an extension of employment, the employer may be held vicariously liable for acts of discrimination or harassment committed by its employees at the event

An employer will have a defence if it can show that it took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee committing the act complained of. Obviously, the existence of a policy providing clear written guidelines on required standards of behaviour will assist with any reasonable defence. 

Being the boss when it comes to christmas need be a kill-joy role. Take steps to remind staff of Company policies and their responsibilities before silly season kicks off to prevent any nasty hangovers which end up in more than just a sore head. 

Learn more about how we can support you with implementing robust policies  

We wish you a merry staff Christmas party from Nigel French & Associates!

employment law staff Christmas drinks.