Top Tips for Christmas Parties

9th December 2011

The office Christmas party is something of a British institution but, as with all matters relating to employment, there are many pitfalls for the unprepared employer.

It is true to say that many businesses suffer complaints from their employees in connection with various types of harassment and inappropriate behaviour at office parties. Therefore some suggestions to minimise the risk of this occurring are: To invite everyone to the party but not insist or adversely react if they do not wish to attend. This is particularly true if the event is in the evening or at the weekend given each individual's different personal commitments. If a secret Santa gift exchange is organised, it may be sensible to ensure that the type of gift that can be included is appropriate within clear parameters set out by employers, As a general rule, gifts with sexual connotations may not always be received in the spirit that the gift was intended. It is important to remember that, whilst 99% of employees will not be offended, it is the 1% that generate Employment Tribunal Claims in this area. Alcohol consumption is also a common cause of potential difficulties for employers. Employers should think carefully before providing free drink or a free bar and it is always advisable to remind staff that an office Christmas party organised by the company is nonetheless subject to certain rules of behaviour in the same way that day to day activities are, accepting that the rules will be different in this environment. It is also important that employers ensure that employees who may be under the age of 18 are not allowed to consume alcohol at events such as these. The existence of mistletoe in the office will be enjoyable for those that wish to take advantage of it but its presence in the office should be carefully considered. Employers will ultimately have to take the responsibility for paying for unwanted advances between employees if a Tribunal views any inappropriate behaviour as evidence of a culture of harassment or inappropriate conduct. Finally, if the Christmas party is within the office itself then the use of alcohol may mean that the employer's duty of care has been breached particularly if the employees are allowed to drive home when clearly they have consumed beyond the legal limit. The timing of such parties is also worthy of consideration in that arranging a party when the following day is a normal working day can often lead to an increased of level of absenteeism which could be avoided if the party was fixed for another day. In summary, -Bah humbug! but have a Happy Christmas!

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