Pitfalls of the office Christmas party

Here comes the festive season yet again with the routine end of year parties and office celebrations. Under those wonderful celebrations lie the murky waters of potential litigations and reputational damage that may result from reckless incidents.

Whether the Christmas party takes place outside of working hours and/or off company premises, the normal laws that protect employees and their rights still apply under the Safety at work Act. If an employee is injured or abused in any way, the company may well be legally liable.

Furthermore, employee relations issues can arise when an office party is planned insensitively; when this follows a period of cost-cutting and redundancies or when no consideration was given to staff from a different faith.

A few tips to consider:

  • Make the party staff-only;
  • Limit the supply of free alcohol and opt for weaker options as well as alcohol-free options;
  • A well-crafted human resource policy will help in this area and a reminder memo beforehand can clarify behaviour expectations;
  • Remind managers that they should be ready to have a friendly word with any person who is becoming intoxicated and to act as buddies if necessary;
  • Make the party optional or not Christmas related to allow staff who feel uncomfortable celebrating a festival based upon another religion to avoid the situation;
  • Consider planning how to get employees home after the event; a taxi-fare is a much cheaper option than a law-suit against the company for failing in its duty-of-care because a drunken employee had an accident making his/her own way home;
  • Conduct a formal risk assessment of the office party and document the measures that have been taken. This will evidence that the company has acted responsibly and taken all reasonable measures to prevent incidents/accidents.
  • Ensure that your company insurance policies cover your Christmas party activities, including any legal liability.

You can find more information on this topic from the ACAS website. The trick is to be able to manage the liabilities and the reputational risks. If you require any assistance in making your business more resilient to such risks, please get in touch.

green leaf on tree rings