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Office Christmas parties – a ‘festive’ warning

For employment lawyers, it is as much a Christmas tradition as turkey and mince pies. Each December, we all trot out our articles on the perils of holding a Christmas party. Well far be it from us to fly in the face of tradition, so here is this year’s festive offering!

Who should you invite?

When drawing up the invites list, you should aim to be as inclusive as possible. No one should feel left out. Remember to make an effort to invite those who are presently away from work, whether because of maternity leave, sickness or for any other reason. If staff are encouraged to invite their partners along, allow for the prospect of unmarried couples and same-sex relationships.

Where should you hold it?

It is worth thinking carefully about the venue for your Christmas party. Is it accessible to all, including those with a disability? Can people get home easily? Choosing a venue that might encourage people to ‘drink and drive’ is clearly inadvisable. So consider whether you have good public transport links or ready access to taxis.

What should you do?

Consider how you make the party appealing to all. Organising an event solely based around the consumption of large quantities of alcohol will no doubt please some of your staff, but it could well be a turn-off for others. In particular, be sensitive to the religious and other beliefs of your staff; make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and the menu provides a vegetarian option.

What about the entertainment?
Be careful about the speakers or entertainers you choose to use. There is a very well-known Employment Tribunal case that arose out of the booking of the ‘stand-up comedian’ Bernard Manning. You can probably guess what went wrong there!

What should you talk about?
When a lot of alcohol has been consumed, people become less inhibited and more likely to say (or do) precisely what is on their mind. As a result, the risk of discrimination and harassment claims rears its ugly head. So make sure people understand that this is a work event and a level of professionalism is still required. Oh, and if you’re the boss, remember that alcohol and conversions about pay rises don’t mix!

The morning after the night before?
Make sure people understand whether they are required to be in work the day after the Christmas party. If they phone in sick, carefully consider whether it is genuine sickness or the result of over-indulgence. Then consider whether disciplinary action is required.

Do your policies need to be given the ‘once-over’?
We wouldn’t suggest that you need a policy specifically to cover your Christmas party. But it’s worth considering whether your existing policies on conduct, harassment and the like are clear about what is expected of people in this context. If not, now is the time to get your house in order.

Make sure you have fun!
Finally, and before we begin to sound too much like the legal equivalent of the ‘Grinch’, the Christmas party is a chance to come together, celebrate a successful year and thank your colleagues for their efforts. It is also an opportunity to have fun. So having taken some sensible precautions, relax, unwind and enjoy yourself. You deserve it!