Christmas is usually a time when employers want to show appreciation for their employees' hard work throughout the year and provide a full or part funded Christmas party for staff and sometimes their partners. However, the Company Christmas party is not without its risks so some careful planning to ensure the festivities run smoothly are required.

Party time

Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, staff should not feel pressurised to attend an organised company event. Employers may face discrimination claims if they insist on attendance - for example, on the grounds of religion and belief from employees that belong to other religious denominations.

The party's timing and location should also be carefully thought through. Locations must be accessible for all, including disabled employees and, if possible, the event should be held at a time when the majority can attend, whilst trying to avoid clashes with other religious rest-days or festivals.


Dressing the part

It may be wise to let staff know what the dress code it. Some people find it incredibly awkward to turn up casually dressed, whilst everyone else is in dinner jackets and long dresses. This immediately could make some staff feel uncomfortable and opens them up as an easy target for derision, which may turn into harassment if not stopped. To avoid this, make it clear what you or the venue expect when you issue the invite.

Mulled wine

Individuals like to let their hair down during the festive season, sometimes with disastrous consequences. It is unreasonable to expect staff to remain entirely sober if an employer is providing drink at a Christmas 'do', and self-restraint is not always top of everyone's priorities at this time. However, it may be wise to have an informal chat to all staff, perhaps at the next team meeting, to remind people that they will have to face their colleagues the next day and no-one wants anyone to feel awkward or embarrassed at work. Also have a quick check in your Staff handbook to make sure you have issued policies on acceptable standards of behaviour, including guidelines on alcohol consumption, both in work and in social events connected with work.

Ensure non-alcoholic drinks are available at any celebration, particularly if you have under-age employees or other staff who do not drink alcohol for whatever reason. Ensure you provide a range of food to cater for a variety of dietary requirements.

Under the mistletoe

The actions of staff, full of festive cheer, occasionally lead to disrespectful behaviour towards others. In employment terms this could lead to claims of harassment and employers may in certain circumstances be held liable for such actions, even if they occur outside working hours. Harassment is unwanted conduct which affects the dignity of another, or creates a hostile environment. An employee can make a complaint to their Employer if the harassment is on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Monitoring each employee's behaviour throughout the night is impossible, but it would be sensible to remind staff before the party, without sounding too much like Mr Scrooge, that staff will still be representing the Company at the party and to gently remind them that you have policies on harassment available.

Subsequently if an employee complains about inappropriate behaviour, staff cannot try to use the defence that they were not aware that they should not act inappropriately as it was outside of working hours. If you do receive a complaint, investigate promptly and follow your disciplinary procedure.

Drink driving

As the Company has organised a party, you need to consider how staff will get home. This is particularly important if the Company has provided a 'free bar' for the night. Ideally discuss with employees in advance how they will get home, particularly if the party finishes late and is being held in an unfamiliar location. Hiring coaches or mini buses to drop people home or take them to a central location is one option many companies opt for. Researching and 'doing a deal' with a local cab firm is another.

The morning after

Unless the party is on a night when staff do not work the next day, you may wish to set out clearly how many staff you will permit to book the following day off as holiday. For those that do need to come to work, confirm your expectations, perhaps setting out guidelines that they are allowed to arrive half hour later than usual (including those who didn't go to the party, so everyone is treated the same). Consider how you will deal with staff if they fail to turn up or are late without good reason.

Jane Sevier is the director of HR company Sevier Consultancy Group

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