The office Christmas party – beware the employment law pitfalls!


It’s that time of year again! Companies are gearing up for the annual office Christmas party. This is traditionally a time when employees are at their most relaxed; especially if there is a little alcohol involved.

However, amongst all the merriment, potentially difficult issues can arise for employers.

1.Employers can be held liable for discrimination occurring outside the workplace.

It is important that all employees regardless of their age, sex, religion and disability are considered when planning a Christmas party. Not all employees will want to be involved in Christmas festivities and should not be forced to, or made to feel uncomfortable if they choose not to attend the Christmas party.

2.An employee can be disciplined for actions outside of the workplace.

Employees should behave at the Christmas party as they would at work — similarly employers should ensure employees understand the code of behaviour they are expected to adhere to. (Providing a free bar may not result in work appropriate behaviour!) See 6.

3.Employers are responsible for employees travelling home from the Christmas party. 

It is important to remember that as an employer you still have a duty of care to your employees at events organised by the business. Alcohol consumption is not an excuse for inappropriate behaviour even at the end of the night. With this in mind it’s wise to draw the party to a close at a time where public transport is still available, or if you are able to, arrange for transport to pick your employees up and take them home.

4.Do not make promises to employees outside of the workplace.

Employers should avoid making promises regarding pay rises or promotions. The best advice is simply not to discuss career potential or salary with employees, as words of encouragement and good intentions could be misinterpreted.

5.Avoid workplace absenteeism – time your party well.

To avoid employees failing to attend work the next day, it might be appropriate to organise the party for a Friday or Saturday evening, but ensure that you give employees plenty of notice to allow those with other responsibilities to make arrangements.

6.Think before you post.

The use of social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is often apparent at the office Christmas party.  It can be tempting to upload photos of colleagues looking a bit worse for wear.  There is also a risk of employees posting inappropriate messages on social media sites which could cause offence or embarrassment to anyone referred to in the post or to the employer.

Such activities could damage the reputation of employees and the trust between colleagues and in serious cases could bring the employer’s name into disrepute.  Employers are advised to have social media policies in place.

7.Review your policies and procedures.

Employers should check their staff handbooks before the commencement of an office Christmas party. Ideally, you would expect to see a policy which deals with the consumption of alcohol and specific reference to events outside of the workplace which are considered to be at work, regardless of the location and the fact that they’re outside of normal working hours. This will assist if disciplinary action is required and that the employee is clearly aware of what is expected of them.

If you feel that, as an employer, you require some legal assistance with regards to updating your processes and procedures when it comes to social events in the workplace, please contact us on 01792 468684 or email enquiries@pgmsolicitors.co.uk.

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