'Tis the season to be... wary!

Lavish events may seem inappropriate this festive season with salaries reported to be failing to keep up with the cost of living.  That said, morale in the workplace may need a boost with some kind of acknowledgment of good work throughout the year. 

The office party can produce all sorts of problems with: hangovers resulting in time off work; grievance and disciplinary procedures which need to be pursued after the event; and, allegations of harassment. This has prompted many firms to move towards a lunch or even some other form of gathering post the festive period.

Whatever your business decides to do, there are a few points you may wish to bear in mind:

  • Employers have an overriding duty to safeguard the welfare of their staff. It is true that what employees get up to in their own time is their own business, however, a Christmas party is more than likely to be regarded as an extension of work. As such, employers can be vicariously liable for the conduct of their staff.
  • Health and safety should not be abandoned particularly in the context of parties which take place on company premises. The photocopier is reputedly a common source of mischief, however, incidents with fire extinguishers or fire alarms can cost employers money and other staff the benefits of a good time.
  • Statistics show a significant increase in sickness absences in December and January each year. Whilst cold and ‘flu may be unavoidable, staff should be informed that sickness absence on grounds of over-indulgence is not acceptable. If an employee rings in sick after a Christmas party, and the employer suspects they are ‘pulling a sickie’, it is important to investigate the reasons for their absence and only take disciplinary action if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the sickness absence was not genuine.
  • Harassment and other forms of discrimination are a risk with the festive excitement and excess quantities of alcohol available to staff who may have developed feelings towards one another throughout the year. These can obviously lead to complaints and employment tribunal claims if matters cannot be resolved. It might just be a look, a touch or an innuendo, but if the recipient feels threatened it could amount to sexual harassment. All such complaints must be taken seriously, and investigated promptly, in accordance with the employer’s normal procedures
  • With many cultural and religious beliefs, it is worth remembering that Christmas is a Christian celebration and, as such, employees should not be pressurised to attend Christmas parties if they do not want to on religious grounds. Similarly, where the event is out of hours, some employees may have family responsibilities that prevent them from attending. Any failure to attend a Christmas event (during work time or otherwise) should not be regarded as a failure on the employee’s part to commit themselves to the company.
  • Before any event takes place employers should explain clearly what is deemed acceptable staff behaviour with particularly reference to the company’s rules relating to health and safety, discrimination and harassment, use of social media and sickness absence.
  • If the company makes it very clear that a breach of the rules will be treated as grounds for disciplinary action there is every chance this will help the employer at a later date if, for example, they may need to show to a Tribunal that they took all reasonable steps of prevention.

By the way: Happy Christmas!

For more information about this article, or any other aspect of our business and personal legal solutions, call us now on 028 9032 2998.  There is no charge for initial telephone advices.


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