Jingle bells at this year's office Christmas party? Or alarm bells?

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Make sure your office Christmas celebrations pass the ‘Equality’ test. Whether you’re full of the festive cheer, or you’ve been dreading the season of good-will – it’s here! In this HR briefing, we look at some of the issues you should bear in mind as we enter the festive season.

‘To party or not to party?’ that is the question…

Many businesses have had a difficult year. They may have had to make cuts and redundancies, and might feel that holding an office party/celebration seems insensitive. However, others would argue that all that is precisely why now is the time to try and boost morale, demonstrate how much you appreciate your staff, and provide an opportunity for colleagues to have fun and socialise in an informal and relaxed environment.

Won’t holding a ‘Christmas’ party discriminate against non-Christians?

No. Although Christmas is a Christian festival, it is certainly no longer celebrated exclusively by practicing Christians. Most employers’ motivation for holding an office party is to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year, rather than celebrating Christmas as a religious festival.

However, it is important to ensure that although everybody has an ‘opportunity’ to share in celebrations, they do not feel ‘forced’ or ‘pressurized’ to do so. Be aware and sensitive to all your staffs’ beliefs – Christian or otherwise. Avoid too much overt or potentially insulting symbolism in decorations. Take into consideration other issues which might be relevant in terms of individual beliefs – religious or otherwise, such as the availability of non alcoholic drinks and catering for any special dietary requirements.

Also think about appropriateness of any dress code – ‘Tarts and Vicars’ or ‘Sexy Santa’ isn’t necessarily conducive to retaining a professional atmosphere!

What about the venue and timing?

Think about the location of any celebration. Is it accessible for all staff, including those with disabilities, or do adjustments need to be made to ensure it is?

Also, would a lunch or early evening event be more convenient for those staff with child care responsibilities?

The spirits of Christmas …. past, present and future

Alcohol and inappropriate behaviour do not always go hand-in-hand, but there’s often a link. Would the finance team really have tackled that unforgettable rendition of ‘Do they know its Christmas’ last year, without a bit of Dutch courage?

Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of unacceptable alcohol induced behavior is aggression – this can take the form of harassment, either physical or verbal and can lead to employment tribunal claims.

You are liable for the actions of your employees towards each other, as well as the behavior of third parties, such as guests or organised entertainers, at work organized or related events, unless you can show that you took all reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate behavior. This is the case even if an event is held out of normal working hours and away from work premises.

Remember, it is important at all times to have in place clear policies, procedures and training in respect of harassment, discrimination and bullying. For the avoidance of doubt, you should ensure staff are reminded that these policies continue to apply in relation to behaviour at work social events.

If you are serving alcohol, encourage employees to drink responsibly and ensure that they are aware that fighting, taking illegal drugs or breaching equality and bullying policies – even if influenced by alcohol - will not be tolerated and will result in disciplinary action.

Think about nominating certain managers to take responsibility for ensuring that matters don’t get out of hand. If an employee does drink too much, or starts to conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner, make sure your ‘nominated hosts’ have authority to make arranging for these individuals to make a ‘dignified exit’…. “taxi!”

To reduce the risk of employees’ drink-driving, it is wise to remind employees before a party to organise their journey home, if they are going to drink. Provide them with details of local transport and taxi firm numbers to encourage them to think ahead.

If you are able to lay on transport to and from a venue, it is always appreciated.

The morning after...

Make clear before the party that all employees are expected to attend work the following day – if it is a normal working day - and that unauthorised absence is not acceptable and will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

Be consistent in dealing with absences in the same way you would throughout the year, using your established procedures.

Don’t make promises under the influence… you might not remember them in the morning, but somebody else will!

Remember a Christmas party is an extension of the business environment and you don’t want conversations held during the office party ending up as contractually enforceable – or worse! The Christmas party is an inappropriate venue at which to discuss pay rises or career prospects.

And finally, enjoy!

Remember ‘PC’ doesn’t necessarily stand for ‘Preventing Christmas'. With care, attention and consideration it is still possible to celebrate Christmas safely, and in style.

If you require further advice on any of these issues, please contact your EEF adviser.

Author

Media Team 020 7654 1576

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