Conciliation service Acas has published an employers’ guide on how to manage the annual Christmas party and avoid potential employment tribunal claims.
Acas said it receives hundreds of calls during the festive season.
Rita Donaghy, Acas chair, said: “If companies have policies and procedures in place which cover the key issues like discipline and grievance, bullying and harassment, discrimination and absence, they are in a much better position to handle these sorts of issues which can happen at any time, not just at Christmas.
“But don’t let potential hazards put you off organising something for Christmas. Staff will feel valued if you treat them right. Think about asking them what they want to do, and ask for suggestions on how to cater for any problems up front.”
The guide is in a simple question and answer format. Here are some examples:
Q. We usually allow our social club to sell raffle tickets for prizes which are given out at the Christmas party – surely there’s no problem with this?
A. Generally, no. However, some religions forbid gambling, so no pressure should be exerted on staff who don’t want to take part. It’s also worth ensuring that the prizes on offer are not going to be unacceptable to those who do not drink alcohol or eat meat.
Q. What if an employee who has clearly drunk too much at the office Christmas party is planning to drive home? It’s not my responsibility, is it?
A. In fact, it is. As an employer, you have a ‘duty of care’ toward your employees, and as it’s the company’s party, you need to take some responsibility. Think about travel arrangements and maybe end the party before public transport stops running. Or provide the phone numbers for local registered cab companies and encourage employees to use them. Hiring minibuses to take staff home is another option which would probably be greatly appreciated.
Q. We want to make sure that there isn’t a repeat of last year when people failed to turn up for work the day after the party.
A. Make sure you provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and food. Before the party, ensure that all staff realise that disciplinary action could be taken if they fail to turn up for work and there is reason to believe it is due to over-indulgence.
Q. What if an employee suffers verbal abuse about being gay at the local pub before the party? It’s not on work premises so it’s a matter for them, isn’t it?
A. Wrong – going to the pub before the office party counts as an extension of work, and so all the laws covering discrimination still apply. Make sure the company has policies in place on bullying and harassment and discrimination and that everyone knows what they are and what the penalties are for ignoring them.
Q. My recently-recruited manager has issued an e-mail to staff telling them that Christmas decorations breach health and safety rules. She also said they are outlawed by the religion and belief regulations. Is she correct?
A. As long as a proper risk assessment is carried out looking at where and how decorations are sited, particularly if they could pose potential fire hazards, health and safety rules will not normally be breached. Regulations on religion and belief do not outlaw traditional customs. As most Christmas decorations such as tinsel, lights and trees are secular and not inherently religious, it could be difficult to argue that they cause offence to non-Christians.
Q. Our Christmas party has always been a rather quiet event. However, we took over another company this year, and now have a majority of younger employees. They are used to more boisterous celebrations and I’m worried that age discrimination claims will be lodged. How can I make everyone happy?
A. The key to any successful party is to put some thought into it. Try to ensure that there is a mix of music and that any organised entertainment takes account of all ages. What you end up with may not be to everyone’s taste, but you can always learn from it and canvass suggestions for next year!