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HR Issues at Office Christmas Parties

Christmas Cracker or On the Naughty List?

It’s the most magical time of the year; fairy lights, baubles, snowmen and Christmas trees – but what about alcohol-induced absences, drunken shenanigans and offended employees?

View our helpful infographic in full here.

Yes, Christmas a time to be merry and joyful, but what happens when the drinks have been flowing a little too enthusiastically? Before you know it you receive a call from the venue you hired complaining about damage caused by one of your employees. Or, you might return to work to find a grievance on your desk from an upset employee who had to ward off an over-friendly tipsy colleague.HR Issues at Office Christmas Parties

But don’t panic! Here are our festive tips for avoiding common HR issues at office Christmas parties, and to make sure it’s a party to remember for all the right reasons.

Our Festive Tips for Avoiding Common HR Issues at Work Christmas Parties;

  • Request that a reliable manager or HR representative remains alcohol-free so they can keep an eye on everything. Obviously, the individual must be in agreement and happy to do this as they have the same right to enjoy the evening just like everyone else.
  • Cap the free bar and provide finger-food or snacks of some kind.
  • Show a duty of care towards staff. This includes arranging for transport to take employees home once the event has ended, as most will be unable to safely drive themselves.
  • Remind staff that you expect them to come into work on time the next day if the party is held during the week, or they should have booked the following day off as holiday leave.
  • Should you receive any complaints following a Christmas party, ensure you act quickly and carry out a thorough investigation before deciding on any disciplinary action.

Why Bother to Host An Office Christmas Party?

Hosting a Christmas party for your business is an important part of boosting staff morale and encouraging your team to build a closer rapport – not to mention it sets a positive tone for the up-and-coming New Year.

12 months of hard work should always be rewarded with some form of acknowledgement. So, why not include an awards ceremony or speech at the party to keep the focus on teamwork and the successes of the year?

Who Is to Blame for HR Issues at Office Christmas Parties?

According to the Equality Act 2010, employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees – unless you can prove you have taken reasonable steps to educate your employees and prevent such acts.

The key element to remember here is that whilst Christmas parties are often held out of working hours, they are still deemed to be work-related and therefore boundaries should be set and emphasised.

You should take the time to gently but firmly remind employees that their actions represent the company as a whole, and therefore any forms of misconduct could potentially bring your company into disrepute.

Ensure that you lay out clear instructions of what actions will be deemed to be unacceptable (such as fighting, drug taking, excessive consumption of alcohol and sexual harassment for example) and what repercussions would be in place for employees exhibiting such behaviour.

Highlight Your Social Media & Events Policies

When reiterating your expectations to staff members, it would also be wise to address the use of social media.

It is crucial that you have a social event policy in place or at the very least send out a memo to your employees prior to the event to reiterate the behavioural standards expected from them.

Employees are entirely permitted to share photos from the event on their personal social media accounts, as long as they are appropriate and uploaded with common sense.
You may have an existing social media policy in place, if so; this should be emphasised to all employees prior to the event.

If you do not have an existing policy, it should be made apparent to your staff what they can and cannot share online.HR Issues at Office Christmas Parties

A social media policy should include what kind of content is deemed to be inappropriate, such as posts of a discriminatory nature or personal/embarrassing information regarding a colleague or manager.
Defamatory comments about the company should also be clearly condemned.

In the case of Bhara v Ikea Ltd, Mr Bhara was attending a workplace Christmas party and began drinking at 10pm. At 11.30pm, Mr Bhara reminded a colleague that he was working the next day and should take care not to drink too much. His colleague reacted angrily and a ‘tussle’ occurred between the two workers. Mr Bhara was dismissed due to acts of ‘physical assault’ and claimed unfair dismissal at an Employment tribunal. 
The tribunal refused his claim as Ikea were able to prove that a thorough investigation had been carried out in regard to Mr Bhara, and ultimately concluded that fighting was a ‘matter of utmost seriousness’.

Are You Encouraging HR issues at Office Christmas Parties?

Employers should contemplate long and hard to determine whether or not their actions could potentially be classed as encouraging bad behaviour.

For example, some companies put on a free bar, which could be deemed as encouraging employees to drink more than a normal amount. One solution would be implementing a reasonable set number of tokens or a cap of how many drinks can be consumed per person.

You could also request that the bar-staff remain vigilant when identifying employees who are intoxicated and firmly refuse to serve them.

If you decide to have your event during the day (say an extended festive lunch), so staff would be expected to return to work, then consuming alcohol would not really be a suitable idea at all.HR Issues at Office Christmas Parties

In the situation that an employee is behaving unacceptably, you should send them home immediately and only conduct an investigation once you have returned to work, as trying to resolve the issue there and then could make the situation worse.

When Do Your Responsibilities to Your Employees End?

We strongly suggest you inform employees that they may still be held accountable for their actions when making their way home from the party.

For example, in the case of Gimson vs By Design Ltd, the claimant got into a physical fight with another colleague on their way home from a workplace Christmas party. Mr Gimson was dismissed and later had his unfair dismissal claim rejected by the tribunal. His claim was unsuccessful due to the fact that By Design Ltd had investigated the incident and concluded that if Mr. Gimson were to return to work, it would’ve had a negative impact on the close-knit atmosphere of the workplace.

Furthermore, the company had not been provided with any sound evidence that Mr. Gimson was provoked or showed any remorse for what had happened.

How Can PeoplePointHR Help Reduce HR issues at Office Christmas Parties?

If you find that following the team Christmas party, you have the unpleasant experience of issuing a disciplinary to one of your employees, PeoplePointHR are able to help you resolve the issue.

Whether you require advice on arranging the workplace party or guidance on handling matters after it has taken place, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our dedicated team of consultants.