With recent research suggesting that up to 25% of employers are deciding not to have a Christmas party it appears that employers are becoming increasingly concerned that the annual Christmas get together could lead to a variety of HR and employment related headaches. Here is a useful guide about the potential legal pitfalls that an you the employer might want to avoid when arranging this year’s Christmas get together.
- Remind employees of your Policies – Employers will have a Policy on conduct including the dangers of behaviour that can be classed as harassment and excess alcohol consumption. Many employers now have alcohol policies. The event will still be work related so the rules of the working environment are likely to still apply and employees need to be aware of this. It may be an idea to issue employees with a Statement in advance for not just Christmas parties but any work related social event setting out the Company Policies on conduct and acceptable employee behaviour.
- Getting the venue right – the location of the party needs to be suitable for all employees. It must comply with Health and Safety Regulations as the employer still owes a duty of care to its staff even in work related social events. Most venues offering Christmas parties will meet this criteria but it is always important to check and it may also be advisable to conduct a quick Risk Assessment.
- Attendance – you need to be careful that the timing and location of the party is such that all employees regardless of age, gender, disability or religion can have an opportunity to attend. The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by employers and employees alike unless it can be shown that reasonable steps were undertaken to avoid this so it is essential that no employee faces an issue of discrimination by being unable to attend.
- Can an employer be responsible for what goes on at a Christmas party? – The answer is yes. The Law states that an employer will be liable for any action taking place ‘in the course of employment’. This would include social events arranged by the employer. For example, in the case of Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police -v- Stubbs and another (1999) the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that social events organised outside the employers usual place of work still classed as being ‘within the course of employment’. Employees can also be disciplined for misconduct after a Christmas party. There has been recent case law involving an employee having deemed by the Employment Tribunal to have been dismissed properly after they were involved in a brawl at the end of a Christmas party.
- What if more than one employee gets involved in ‘an incident’? – When it is unclear who is at fault if employees are involved in an incident i.e. a fight/scuffle, recent case law has suggested that the Employment Tribunal will view that both employees are culpable. You could land yourself in trouble if such an incident were to occur and you discipline/dismiss one and not the other.
- Transport – you could be liable to employees for an accident if it has been caused following a Christmas party due to drink driving. It is sensible for employers to provide/make arrangements for transport to prevent this from happening.
- Arriving late to work (or not at all) after the Christmas party – if an employee has a term in their Contract to say that they are not allowed to take unauthorised absence then you can make deductions from an employee’s pay if they turn up late or not at all regardless of whether it is as a result of an employer organised social event. You are also entitled to take disciplinary action for lateness or non-attendance and this is why it is sometimes sensible to set out a Policy before the Christmas party so that all of your employees are aware of the repercussions of breaching disciplinary policy. If the non-attendance is due to illness then this will come under an employer’s sickness policy.
The office Christmas party is often an opportunity for employers and employees alike to get together to celebrate the hard work that they have undertaken throughout the year and allow employees an opportunity to spend time together outside of the pressures of work. By taking a few sensible steps you as employers can significantly reduce the risk of falling foul to unnecessary legal complications particularly relating to employee conduct.
If you require any further advice on this matter or any other employment related matter please do not hesitate to contact our offices on 01654 711499 or email email@example.com.