To start the evening’s frivolities, staff often give presents to their colleagues. However, ‘joke’ presents such as novelty underwear, an edible medical kit (to an employee recently returned from sick leave), inflatable body parts and a Zimmer frame (to an older employee) might just be offensive. Such presents can put employers at risk of harassment claims on the grounds of sex, age and disability so a brief notification regarding what would be considered unacceptable is wise.
Given the high spirits, often staff let their inhibitions go and can get carried away under the mistletoe. If they haven’t already got one in place, employers should implement a policy on workplace relationships which addresses appropriate conduct both in the office and at work related events.
With mobile telephones providing immediate access to social networking sites, staff are increasingly caught posting inappropriate photos and comments relating to their colleagues or the business. These can potentially damage the reputation of the business and employee relations. A social media policy is essential, clearly setting out which posts will be considered unacceptable misconduct, whether or not they are made in ‘work’ time, and how they will be dealt with. A short reminder to all staff before the event is strongly advised.
Many employees unwisely use the Christmas party as an opportunity to approach senior staff to ask for promotion or a pay rise. That said, senior staff can also be found conducting informal appraisals at the bar. This can seriously damage employee engagement. Senior staff should be given strict guidance on not engaging in any discussion relating to promotions, terms and conditions or performance outside the office and especially during a party.
By the end of the evening, when staff are slightly worse for wear, they often say things they wouldn’t usually say. This can include comments relating to characteristics protected by discrimination law such as sex, disability, sexual orientation and age. Such comments can lead to harassment claims for employers which can be difficult to defend.
Equal opportunities training is advisable but, if time has run out for a refresher session, at least make sure the company’s equal opportunities policy has been sent to all staff before the party. Implementing a clear policy can offer employers a defense against harassment claims derived from an employee’s comments.
There seems to be an accident at every Christmas party. These can range from minor trips on the dance floor to serious head injuries following overly enthusiastic antics. Employers should have emergency contact details for all staff and ensure there is at least one nominated sober responsible person present at the party who can take charge. There should be a plan in place on how to deal with such a situation.
At the party staff relax and the stresses and strains of the year come to the surface. Unfortunately, this can lead to disputes between staff – sometimes developing into physical fights. Employers should brief their nominated responsible person on how and when to step in and diffuse the situation. Clear policies in respect of conduct at work events should already be in place as part of your disciplinary policy.
After the party, sickness absence (genuine or not) is common, causing significant lost working time. Staff should be reminded of absence policies beforehand. Such policies could specify that the employer will require a fit note from the employee’s GP for any absence on the day after the Christmas party (albeit this would have to be at the employer’s cost).
The key is for employers to be well prepared and to remind everyone of the rules without putting a damper on the festivities.
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