How to have a successful Christmas Party

Richard
Smith of Croner Consulting outlines the points to consider when preparing to
party

The
Christmas party season has begun, and offices and factories around the country
are preparing for their seasonal bashes.

As
a nation, we work – and party – harder than ever before. For many of us, the
company Christmas party is a time to enjoy a tipple and then, the next day,
indulge in the aftermath of gossip about who did what, where and with whom,
while quietly nursing our hangovers.

From
an employer’s perspective, however, the Christmas party is considered a ‘work
activity.’  Regardless of the buffet,
booze or location, employers have a duty to ensure employees or the public are
not harmed by work activity under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

As
a result, parties can become legal minefields for employers. Job titles and
hierarchies that apply during working hours can become blurred in a social
setting. Unwanted advances from a senior to a subordinate may be interpreted as
harassment. Allegations of sexual or racial discrimination are common, as are
food poisoning and drunken injuries. Firms can even risk jeopardising the
company’s reputation through their employees’ alcohol-fuelled antics.

Excess
alcohol can also contribute to absenteeism and poor performance the day after
the party and personal complications may arise from festive feuds or flirting.

Faced
with these risks, how can you ensure your party is a success, without becoming
a party pooper?

Be
aware of employee’s rights

Employees
have the right to enjoy the party free from harassment on the basis of sex,
race, religion or sexual orientation. As the employer, you have a duty to
protect that right, and there are regulations in place to enforce this.

Recent
legislation of which employers should be particularly aware includes the
Employment Equality Regulations 2003 for sexual orientation and religious
beliefs which came in to force at the beginning of December.

Under
these regulations, employers can be prosecuted for discrimination on these
grounds. When inviting partners to the party, for example, care should be taken
to invite the partners of both different and same-sex couples.

In
our religiously diverse society, many people do not recognise Christmas and, while
renaming the party as the ‘Winter Festival’ may be a little too dramatic,
employers must consider that these employees may not wish to attend or drink
alcohol.

Although
not necessarily discriminatory, companies with a ‘drinking culture’ should take
care not to sideline employees of other religions who could feel their career
path may be hindered through missing out on informal chats and bonding
opportunities with colleagues.

Identify
potential hazards

As
with any work activity, it is necessary to anticipate any potential hazards.

The
main problems stem from alcohol. If you, as an employer, supply the alcohol, or
encourage its liberal consumption, you are then responsible for employees’
actions while under its influence.

Many
employers may not know that their liability stretches beyond the end of the
party and even into the next day, until the employee is sober. This can be
especially dangerous for those operating machinery the next day.

Companies
are not only liable for party accidents that occur on their premises, but also
for accidents that occur away from the workplace that are related to alcohol
consumption at the party.

The
buffet can be host to an array of harmful bacteria. If you are providing a
buffet, you must make sure the items you provide are safe to eat. Buffet food
presents a particularly high risk of food poisoning from foods such as cooked
meats, eggs, mayonnaise and cooked rice. Food should not be left out at room
temperature for more than 90 minutes and should be kept below 5°C.

Setting
a ‘party policy’

Employers
should treat the party as though it is any other work activity and make sure
employees know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. A simple ‘party policy’
serves to remind employees that they are representing the company and must
therefore act appropriately. The policy must be communicated to employees ahead
of the party, so it may be a good idea to include it on or with the invitation.

The
policy could state recommended guidelines for consuming alcohol, and one or
more nominated people should enforce these guidelines during the party. If
someone appears to have had too much to drink, or is behaving inappropriately,
they should be reminded of the guidelines and asked to stop drinking, or even
to leave the party if they are being disruptive.

Employees
should also be made aware of other policies the company has in place, such as
health and safety, protection against discrimination and even the company’s
view on relationships between colleagues. If employees know where they stand
from the outset, then they have a benchmark for judging their behaviour.

While
having a party policy may seem Scrooge-like, it is a valuable precaution,
should an incident occur, which demonstrates that reasonable action has been
taken to protect employees.

Top
tips

1.         Ensure
you are up to speed on the latest legislative developments with regard to
discrimination and communicate to employees that you will not tolerate
discriminatory behaviour

2.         Treat the party as a work activity and
introduce a ‘party policy’

3.         Identify potential hazards and put
measures in place to minimise the risks

4.         Treat any allegations seriously and
investigate following the correct procedures

5.         Enjoy the festive season with the peace
of mind that you have taken the necessary precautions

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