Avoiding the Legal Hangover from the Office Christmas Party

Avoiding the legal hangover from the office Christmas party - People Development Network
Avoiding the legal hangover from the office Christmas party - People Development Network

The office Christmas party may be a great way to boost morale and reward staff for their efforts during the year but things can go wrong and if they do, the repercussions can extend beyond the obligatory hangover.  Usual employment laws apply whether an office Christmas party takes place within working hours, out of hours and regardless of location. This is because it is likely to be considered to be an extension of the normal working environment.  Therefore employers will remain liable for acts carried out by their employees which may cause offence to others, to the extent that they may be faced with claims of discrimination.  These may arise from over exuberant behaviour bordering on harassment and may also include the activities of hired entertainers.

In a recent case, an employer was sued by an employee who suffered a serious brain injury following an assault by a colleague following a Christmas party.

Employers also need to be sensitive to employees who don’t drink alcohol or who don’t eat certain foods.  There are a number of fairly simple and common-sense steps which employers can take to avoid the legal pitfalls and embarrassment which may interrupt and spoil what should be a happy occasion.

  • Make sure the event is inclusive and invite employees who are on family-related leave or sick leave.
  • Choose a venue which is accessible to all employees.
  • Be wary of entertainment which may not be seen as humorous by everybody and which may cause offence.
  • Control the amount of free alcohol available.
  • Avoid discussions about career prospects or pay rises with employees.
  • Tactfully remind employees about expectations and policies with regard to posting on social media and what is acceptable behaviour.

Whilst employers should invite all employees, they should not insist that employees attend and should not put undue pressure or influence on those who choose not to take part.  The venue should be at a location which is not only accessible but suitable for employees of all ages and ensures that employees are able to get home safely after the event.

With the increase and explosion of social media platforms, there is a greater risk associated with office party events and employees should be discouraged and perhaps indeed forbidden from posting photos of colleagues looking slightly the worse for wear.  Not only does this cause potential data protection issues but inappropriate photographs could harm the reputation of the employer and damage trust between colleagues.

Finally, it may be advisable to agree some ground rules regarding the next day and whether employees may be permitted to arrive slightly late or not at all.  Care should be taken regarding employees who may arrive at work still under the influence of alcohol especially if they are required to operate machinery as part of their job.

With all of that in mind, your office Christmas party should hopefully be an enjoyable experience with only the need to reach for an extra coffee in the morning!

Paul Grindley
Having specialised in Employment law for over 25 years (yes, that long) I believe in providing practical, focused advice to businesses and like to deliver this in a concise no-nonsense fashion. To quote a recent client review ". . . sharp understanding of the facts . . . clever resolution . . . appreciate Paul's thoughtfulness and compassion"

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