At this time of year, employment lawyers often have a Scrooge-like reputation, warning of potential claims that can arise from the work Christmas party. In fact, claims arising from Christmas festivities aren’t as common as some people would have you believe – but they do happen.
For example, there’s the fact that alcohol is usually involved. When inhibitions are lowered and the mistletoe comes out, someone might do something they regret – such as make an unwanted advance to a colleague. The difference between the work party and any other merry night out is that the employer could be held liable for what takes place. This applies to all sizes of employer, even small businesses.
But it’s not all “bah humbug.” You’ll be pleased to know that it isn’t necessary to cancel the celebrations, because there are a few simple steps you can take to minimise the risk without spoiling the fun:
- 1. Be inclusive
It may seem like common sense, but it is a good idea to ensure that your event is suitable for as many people as possible. If you have disabled staff, the venue should be suitable. You may have employees who don’t drink alcohol or eat meat for religious reasons (or personal preference), so alternative options need to be available. You may of course have some staff whose religious beliefs would prevent them from attending a Christmas party at all, in which case that should be respected.
- 2. Be clear
You don’t need a ten page list of rules, but it is helpful to explain what you expect. For example, if the event takes place during working hours, what happens to those who can’t or don’t want to attend the party – are they expected to stay at the workplace? If the next day is a working day, you may wish to clarify whether staff are expected to attend work as normal.
- 3. Be prepared
Particularly where alcohol is involved, it is worth encouraging people to think about how they will get home after the event, for example by providing the telephone numbers for local taxi firms. It is also a good idea to think in advance about who would deal with any incidents that might crop up.
- 4. Have the right policies and procedures in place
If you do get a claim, then having properly implemented policies on equal opportunities and bullying and harassment will be a key part of your defence. Even businesses with only a few employees should have an equal opportunities policy in place.
Your position will be strongest if you have trained your staff on equality issues and kept their training up to date. Since 1 October employers are bound by the Equality Act 2010, which consolidated and updated the existing law on discrimination. If you haven’t already done so, your existing policies and procedures should be reviewed to ensure they are consistent with the new Act.
Although these points are particularly relevant to Christmas parties, the law is the same all year round. Why not make it your New Year’s Resolution to arrange equal opportunities training?
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team 01243 836840 or [email protected]