Christmas Party Health Warning
At this time of year thoughts are starting to turn to Christmas shopping, writing cards and of course the all important work “Christmas Do”. Having worked in HR for over 15 years now I have seen and heard stories surrounding Christmas parties, some publishable some not, which have had HR implications. Ashley shared some of his stories in his blog last week, and so now it’s my turn to offer some thoughts on how to have a Christmas Do, not a Christmas Don’t!
This blog is written not to put a dampner on your Christmas Festivities or to cry “Bah Humbug”, but is simply meant as some guidance and things to consider if you are responsible for a Christmas Party of any kind.
A survey of 2,000 employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that one in ten workers know of someone from their organisation who has either been disciplined or dismissed for inappropriate behaviour at the staff Christmas party. Of these, over a quarter (29%) said that the reason for the disciplinary action or dismissal was fighting and one-fifth (19%) said that threatening behaviour was to blame. The next most commonly reported reasons for disciplinary action or dismissal were sexual harassment (17%), bullying (12%) and other forms of discrimination (8%), for example on the grounds of disability or religion. Almost half (46%) said the reason was for ‘other inappropriate behaviour’, which could include unorthodox use of the office photocopier, extra curricular activity in the stationary cupboard, or insulting the boss. The most worrying as far as I am concerned is the harassment issue; this is a real issue and if an incident at the party triggers or is part of a serious harassment claim then you will be vicariously liable and need to take steps to protect yourself as below. Another good solution here is to have a party to which partners are invited – this seems to keep things a bit more in control (and many companies have adopted this approach as a consequence).
So what does this tell us? The important point is to find a way of reminding staff that inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with in the same way as it would be during normal work time. Ben Willmott from the CIPD said: “People should feel able to relax and let their hair down, however it is a good idea for employers to remind their staff that inappropriate behaviour could land them in serious trouble and even lead to them losing their job in the case of serious misconduct. In the current economic environment with people under increasing pressure at work there is an added risk that people will drink too much, let off steam and do something they might regret in the sober light of the next morning.”
There has been talk of risk assessing Christmas parties; this may be extreme as any venue you go to should have done this, but you may want to consider a form of risk assessment in terms of preventing or minimising the risk to your company’s reputation. You could do this by simply reminding all staff of their obligations and responsibilities even on Christmas nights out – whether funded by the employer or not. Groups of staff at non-funded parties can also cause employer difficulties, if they are recognisable as your employees. You can do this verbally at the same time as publicising the date, or in writing to each person, or by posters, or noticeboards, or via your intranet. That way if anyone misbehaves, you are in a much clearer position if you were to take disciplinary action, as expectations have been set beforehand.
Giving some of these things some thought beforehand can ensure that your Christmas event is what it should be; a fun event and a chance to let your hair down. From reading around various HR publications and forums here are some top tips:
|Remember that your Christmas party is a work activity
As the employer, you are responsible for the safety and the actions of your staff at your Christmas party – just like with any other business activity. This applies whether you’re having a full-scale event or simply spending an evening at the local restaurant. A ‘works do’ is part of work life, and the same principles apply when it comes to looking after your staff.
Be careful what you promise
Make sure you take an ‘inclusive’ approach
Have an observer
As ever, if you need advice on any of these issues – before or after your Christmas event – then please get in touch.
Wishing you all a Very Merry (if slightly premature) Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The material is not intended to provide, and does not constitute, legal or any other advice on any particular matter, and is provided for general information purposes only.