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‘Tis the season… for a HR headache?

It’s that time of year again and, after the last few years of relatively quiet festive periods as a result of the global pandemic, there are bound to be big Christmas bashes aplenty this year.  Whilst this is a great way for businesses to thank employees for their hard work and loyalty over the preceding months, the Christmas party can also be headache inducing for HR teams and managers.  As well as the knock-on effects on a workforce, there could also be repercussions from unwanted adverse publicity arising from the events.  We’ve set out some tips below to help ensure that your festive events are memorable for none of the wrong reasons!

1.     Communicate expectations regarding conduct

It is important to remind staff in advance that although you want them to enjoy themselves, the party is a work based event and that codes of conduct and behaviour continue to apply (so no unwanted harassment, illegal substances, inappropriate posting on social media and so on).  Significantly they should also be reminded that any suspected misconduct will be investigated and dealt with in line with your usual policies. 

2.     Don’t pressurise staff into taking part in social events

A recent well publicised case (albeit in the French courts) has highlighted the dangers of forcing staff to take part in social events that go above and beyond their normal role and responsibilities.  That case, which has been seen as reiterating a ‘right to be boring’ focused on the dismissal of a man who was dismissed after not getting involved in extra curricular activities, which was determined to be unfair (Mr T v Cubik Partners). 

Be careful too of potential discrimination claims; remember that there are many reasons why an employee can’t stay out late after normal working hours (think children or other caring responsibilities), or why they don’t want to drink (religious and health reasons to name but a few).  Applying pressure on such individuals could easily escalate to potential harassment and/or constructive dismissal claims.

3.     Be inclusive

For the same reasons, consider where and when will be the best time for your event to take place so that it is as inclusive as possible for your whole team.  Ensure that your catering arrangements are respectful of different cultures and dietary requirements.  Also think about any alternatives that can be provided to those employees who cannot or choose not to drink.

4.     Take complaints seriously

Employer organised parties are most likely to be found to be an extension of the workplace, meaning that the employer can be liable for any discriminatory or other unsavoury conduct that may take place.  This is particularly the case if it could be considered that certain behaviours are being encouraged/condoned by management, or if employees are being supplied with excess alcohol.  Should any issues or complaints arise, they should therefore be investigated promptly and taken as seriously as if the issue had arisen in the office.

5.     Keep a watching eye

No-one wants to be seen as the fun-police, but it is always a good idea for 1/2 (or more depending on the size of the event) senior managers to remain sober and to keep an eye out for any potential disasters.  Is someone partaking in slightly too much free alcohol, is someone starting a strip-tease on the dance floor, are two of your team starting to square up or become aggressive…?  Time for the sensible manager to step in and call a cab.  Remember too not to take any hasty action without following your usual processes, which could easily be regretted in the morning.

We hope that your festive activities go smoothly and are enjoyable by all of your team!

Posted on 11/29/2022 by Ortolan

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