Every year the firm's Christmas party presents employees with the chance to relax and enjoy the holiday season. However, it is easy to forget that an employer owes its employees certain obligations, even outside work, when the employer has organised the gathering.
In order to prevent what should be a happy occasion from leading to recriminations or worse, an employer should take certain basic steps. Here are some of the more important ones:
- Carry out a risk assessment – this should include the venue and, in particular, the possible risks associated with serving alcohol. Making sure employees can get home safely is important, so consider hiring transport or providing taxis if necessary. Ensure soft drinks are provided as an alternative to alcoholic drinks;
- Ensure that, if employees’ partners are invited, there is no discrimination with regard to who is invited. Ensure also that reasonable adjustments are made to allow any disabled employee or partner to attend;
- Ensure that employees understand the difference between 'banter' and behaviour that could be considered to infringe the dignity of any person present...and if such behaviour occurs, act quickly to prevent a re-occurrence. Take prompt action if a complaint is received;
- Make sure that employees who are expected to attend work the day after the function understand that absence through over-indulgence is likely to be regarded as a disciplinary rather than a medical matter;
- Make sure employees are aware that any illegal acts will not be tolerated.
The biggest problems that are likely to arise are that inappropriate behaviour may occur, especially if alcohol flows too freely, and that there may be conduct which members of a particular religious persuasion find objectionable.
Your firm's contract of employment will probably deal with most or all of these issues, but a reminder in advance of the function is a sensible precaution.