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It is prudent that you plan your Christmas parties with this in mind, to minimise the risk of staff misconduct and grievances arising.

This article highlights the types of grievances that staff may have and how to prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

Why would staff have a grievance following a Christmas party?

The leading cause of grievances that may arise following a Christmas party is when a member of staff feels that their employer, or a colleague, has harassed them. Unlawful harassment occurs when a person is subject to unwelcome and offensive behaviour involving one or more of the following protected characteristics:

  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Race;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sex; or
  • Sexual orientation.

Harassment claims can have a significant impact on all of those involved. If a member of staff feels that they have been harassed at your Christmas party, they can take the issue to an employment tribunal and could be awarded compensation for any financial loss they have suffered, as well as for injury to feelings.

How can you minimise the risk of facing tribunal claims from Christmas parties?

To help you avoid a bad start to the new year, we have put together some tips for you to consider:

Do not make attendance at your Christmas party compulsory

Christmas parties should be a voluntary event to minimise the risk of discriminating against employees. For example, the timing of the event may clash with non-Christian religious dates, providing some employees with an argument for discrimination on religious grounds. It may also amount to sex discrimination if a proportion of your female staff are unable to attend as a result of being the main childcare providers.

Treat all employees equally

It is important to invite all employees, including fixed-term workers and part-time staff.

Ensuring that you do not forget to invite anyone who is currently on maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or long-term sickness leave, could help to avoid a discrimination claim. It would be wrong to presume that just because they are not at work or are not well enough to attend, that they would not feel able to meet with colleagues in a more social capacity.

Be mindful about under-18s attending

It could be seen as age discrimination if you decide to hold your work Christmas party at a bar where no under 18s are allowed. However, if the venue does not have an entry age restriction, you must remind any under-18s that they should not be drinking alcohol.

Be considerate about disabled employees’ access

The majority of venues nowadays will be fully accessible to people of all abilities. Although it is worth considering the access and facility requirements of any disabled employee, to ensure that they are not treated less favourably and are given the same opportunity as non-disabled employees to attend.

Remind staff not to be inappropriate

It is recommended to remind staff about company policies concerning discrimination, bullying and harassment and equal opportunities in the lead up to the party. Reinforce the behavioural expectations and forewarn them that any inappropriate behaviour that occurs at the Christmas party will be disciplined in the same way as during work hours.

Be considerate of those who do not drink alcohol

If your Christmas party includes the provision of food and drink, it is essential to consider the need to cater for people who do not drink alcohol or who have dietary restrictions, regardless of it being for religious, cultural, medical or personal reasons.

Be aware of possible alcohol-related issues

Excess alcohol can cause people to act out of character; therefore, it is advisable to avoid encouraging or fuelling drunken antics, as this can inadvertently lead to misconduct.

Alcohol consumption can result in sexual harassment. Employers must ensure that they are not seen to be condoning such behaviour and if they witness anything on the night, should take immediate action.

If you are planning to provide free alcoholic drinks for your staff, consider limiting the amount. It is sensible to have at least one member of the management team remain sober enough to keep an eye on what is happening and be prepared to intervene if a situation looks perilous.

It is also worth ensuring that the staff at the venue are vigilant and will refuse to serve an already-intoxicated employee.

For many people, the festive season is seen as a time to relax and unwind; however, for employers, it can also bring with it an additional headache.

Minimise your risk of facing tribunal claims

Considering the above actions can help you to ensure that the Christmas party is enjoyed by all while minimising your risk of facing a tribunal claim.

We recommend that you send formal, but not overbearing, communication to your staff, outlining the acceptable levels of behaviour at your work Christmas party. To assist with this, we have drafted a template Christmas party behaviour email for you to distribute to your employees ahead of the event.

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