Christmas may be the time of good cheer, but once the wine starts to flow, unguarded remarks and bad behaviour can land employers in hot water with harassment and discrimination claims.
As the festive season approaches, it’s worth giving staff a gentle reminder that the same rules that apply in the workplace still apply at any Christmas work events – whether in the office or elsewhere. Employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts or harassment by their employees at work parties – even if the event is held off site and out of normal working hours – so it’s important to make everyone aware of behaviour policies and the likely consequences of failing to observe them.
Another key consideration at this time of year is making sure that any seasonal celebrations are as inclusive as possible, so be sensitive to the needs of staff who don’t celebrate Christmas, don’t drink or have certain dietary requirements. If you’re having an after-dinner speaker or entertainer, take the time to brief them beforehand to make sure that their material won’t offend anyone. The timing of your event might inadvertently exclude certain groups – for example, observant Jewish employees would be unable to attend a party held on a Friday after work – so it’s important to take everyone’s needs into account at the planning stage.
Over-indulgence at the office party can also lead to problems with employees calling in sick or arriving late for work the following day. Any unplanned post-party absences are best dealt with through existing absence policies, but employers may want to consider making it clear in advance that disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who turns up late or fails to come in the day after the party. Ensuring that there is plenty of food available, as well as a range of non-alcoholic drinks, can go a long way towards heading off the hangovers and making sure the day after isn’t a disaster.
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