This is the time of year many businesses will be planing their office party as the end of the year approaches. This time of year should be a happy time of year in every office. At the end of a long year, the office Christmas party is a great opportunity to boost camaraderie and thank the people behind your business for their hard work.
The responsibilities an employer has at a Christmas party should not be taken lightly, as they have the potential to cause serious legal issues for the business. So before you start stocking up on wine and put together the perfect playlist, we have prepared for you the Top 10 hazards facing employers that can make a very un-merry Christmas party.
Most tribunal claims after an office party result from excessive drinking and inappropriate behaviour. The most common claims include sexual harassment and violence. Employers should limit the amount of alcohol that is provided – especially free of charge – and encourage employees to act responsibly and with respect for their colleagues.
TIP: Limit the amount of alcohol on offer and remind employees of the need for responsibility as well as enjoyment.
The object of having a party is to enable all employees to attend and enjoy the occasion. A venue that is not accessible by individuals with a disability, or might offend those of a particular religion or sex, could result in claims for discrimination.
TIP: Book a venue with appropriate facilities, and access for your staff and any guests.
3: Food and drink
Office parties at this time of year are not generally tailored towards specific religions (despite being commonly referred to as Christmas parties). However, there is a danger that measures might be put in place that could be detrimental to followers of non-Christian religions. For example, only having alcoholic drinks available, or only providing pork sausages, could land an employer at risk of discrimination claims. The occasion should not alienate any category of employees, so offering non-alcoholic drinks and alternative food options (e.g. vegetarian food) is important.
TIP: Ensure you provide a range of refreshments that cater for alternative dietary requirements and religious restrictions.
Employers allowing employees to bring their partners should be careful to not discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation. It should not be assumed that all partners are of the opposite sex, and any invitation should be opened up to all.
TIP: If you are extending invitations partners, don’t make discriminatory assumptions.
Everyone likes a laugh, but it is not the case that all jokes are harmless. Just because a hired entertainer is not an employee, this does not excuse the employer of liability for racist and sexist jokes. If the employer has provided the entertainment and not fulfilled its duty to protect employees from unwanted conduct, it could be liable for harassment claims.
TIP: Brief entertainers and host staff on what is and is not acceptable prior to the event.
6: Party banter
Employers need to be aware of their liability for the actions of their employees. Harassment claims arising from racist, sexist, or ageist jokes could ultimately be brought against them. Employees should be advised in advance that discriminatory comments are no more acceptable at a party than in the office, and employers should encourage a culture of mutual respect.
TIP: Ensure you have clear guidelines for conduct in company social surroundings and draw employees’ attention to them prior to the event.
7: Employees absent before the event
It is important to extend the party invitation to those on family-related leave (e.g. maternity and paternity leave), and those absent through illness or injury. A failure to invite all employees could result in claims of discrimination.
TIP: Check who is out of the office on leave. Remember that internal e-mails may not reach them and that it is good practice to invite all staff.
8: Employees absent after the event
Disciplinary issues arise when employees fail to show up for work the day after a party, usually for alcohol-related reasons. In these circumstances normal disciplinary rules should be applied in relation to unauthorised absence to avoid allegations of inconsistency. To avoid allegations of unfairness, employees should be warned in advance of the consequences of pulling a sickie the day after.
TIP: You should warn employees about absence after events, and act consistently when imposing sanctions.
9: Dealing with grievances
If an employee raises a grievance after a party, an employer should not brush it off on the basis that the behaviour took place in a party environment or outside of the office. Employers need to ensure they investigate with a view to addressing the employee’s issues through the usual grievance procedure.
TIP: Maintain consistency and deal with complaints in the same way you would deal with any other grievance.
10: Lack of a clear policy
Ultimately employers should implement a policy that is clear and accessible to all employees and which provides clarity on what is expected of them at such an event, and what will happen if they fail to behave. If employees know what is and what is not acceptable, and the employer acts consistently in all cases, the employer’s actions will generally be reasonable.
TIP: Implement an Office Party Policy to provide clarity to employees and managers.
Finally we thought this list of potential party issues will make an interesting read while you plan your office party for next month. At The Startup Magazine we want all our readers to have enjoyable office parties, in December and through out the rest of the year!
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