It’s the office Christmas party … but is everyone really having a good time?

‘Tis the season to have a party

The ‘work Christmas Do’ used to be an annual event for almost every business, but after lockdowns and the economic downturn, work-based Christmas parties may no longer be on the calendar. The Christmas Do was always a chance for staff to ‘let their hair down’, too – but these days we’re all more aware of behaviours that might make colleagues feel uncomfortable. Potentially harmful pranks and hijinks are, rightly, no longer acceptable.

Alcohol is often on the menu at an office Christmas party, but booze – coupled with a more relaxed atmosphere – can influence decision-making and lead to unguarded or aggressive conduct. This can lead to serious claims of bullying or harassment. As employers, you have a duty of care towards your employees, and this duty can be breached by inaction when it is clear that violence or other unlawful conduct took place.

When office Christmas party behaviour goes too far …

During a works party in Cardiff in 2017, CCTV caught the moment when a manager was put into a headlock by a colleague, which resulted in her losing consciousness. She fell, hit her head and suffered facial paralysis. 

She decided she didn’t want any action to be taken at work, but when she was subsequently told her injuries would potentially have long-term effects, she spoke to her employer and also reported the incident to the police. Later, the manager felt the matter was not dealt with sufficiently and resigned, claiming constructive unfair dismissal.

An employment tribunal found the incident at the office Christmas party was ‘inextricably linked’ to the workplace, and the CCTV evidence showed that the manager had been strangled. The employment judge decided there was a breach of employment contract and also agreed that this constituted constructive unfair dismissal.

… and some advice to stop that happening!

The incident above highlights the importance of addressing incidents that occur at work events, including parties. Here are some tips to help to avoid anything going badly wrong during a Christmas party.

  1. Create and implement a policy on conduct at work-related events. This policy will inform employees of the behaviour expected during such events, and the consequences if it is breached.
  2. In the run-up to the party, please remind employees they are representing the business, that certain standards of behaviour are expected, and what can happen if they are found to be in breach of these standards.
  3. Parties and events are often organised via WhatsApp groups and other chat forms. Remind group members to keep conversations professional.
  4. If you’re organising an event, it’s a good idea if someone present – perhaps a manager – stays sober.

If anything does go wrong at a party, make sure you conduct a full investigation to find out what happened, especially if alcohol was involved.

Holidays for everyone?

Of course, it may be that not everyone in your workplace celebrates Christmas. It might be important for certain employees to take holiday at other times of the year. If you are planning to shut down the whole business over the Christmas period, how does that impact annual leave? Are the days you’ll be closed over Christmas counted as annual leave, or as additional days off?

And here’s a final thought … there can be tax implications surrounding Christmas parties. Some events are eligible for tax exemptions. Talk to your accountant to make sure you’re familiar with the latest guidance. If you’re having a Christmas party, we hope it’s fun, safe and a chance for you and your team to relax and enjoy yourselves!

If you’d like to talk through the practicalities of a work events behaviour policy, give us a ring on 01449 708999 or send us an email.

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