Top Tips for a Claim Free Christmas

Over the past few years a number of clients have faced complaints from employees about colleagues’ unguarded behaviour at staff Christmas parties. You don’t want a discrimination claim brought against you as well as having a hangover, but at the same time you don’t want to sound like a killjoy, so take care when organising such events. If you follow our top tips you will be well on your way to ensuring that the office party is a fun, incident free event. So, what should and shouldn’t you do?

Party planning

  • A gentle reminder to employees before the party that it is a work event and as such you will not tolerate objectionable language and behaviour will not be misplaced. It may even be a good idea to ask managers to have a quiet word with employees who have caused problems at past events to ensure that they don’t put on a repeat performance.
  • Without sounding too stuffy, staff should be reminded of the company policy on sickness absence and punctuality. You might want to inform them that post-party absence or tardiness will be recorded and handled in the normal way. This may put some employees off over indulgence
  • It can also be a good idea to let managers know that they are expected to lead by example.
  • Subject to there being a yearly rota so members of staff aren’t forced to stay off the booze unwillingly every year, you might want to delegate some managers to remain sober to deal with any problems which do occur during the party. Don’t just chose the ones who aren’t going to be drinking since these may, for example, be from one religious group or a disproportionate number of women or older employees.
  • Advise senior management that they should avoid discussing issues such as bonuses, pay rises, or promotions at the Christmas party. In a past case an employee sued based on the promises made at the Christmas party. Although he lost, you don’t want to be faced with the prospect of lengthy litigation.
  • Similarly, if you have third parties such as clients or suppliers attending, advise employees not to discuss confidential information to avoid any leaks. A gentle reminder not to discuss clients will also not go amiss, as it is often the case that in a convivial environment, comments of an unacceptable nature about a client may be made.
  • If you invite spouses to the party, also invite long term partners whether of the same or opposite sex.

The main event

  • Food is key to soaking up the alcohol, so ensure that there is plenty, and that the selection caters for all tastes. Laying on the food early on in the evening may encourage employees to turn up to the event straight after work rather than going to the pub beforehand. This will mean that not only will they drink less, but it might also ensure everyone lines their stomachs for the drinking later on.
  • Be careful not to leave yourself open to discrimination claims on the grounds of religion or belief. Ensure that there is a mix of entertainment for all tastes. Certain members of staff may feel discriminated against if there are no alternatives to alcohol offered, or if most of the raffle prizes are alcohol based. Further, certain religions forbid gambling so buying raffle tickets should be on an entirely voluntary basis.
  • Beware of inappropriate sexual comments or overly friendly or flirtatious advances. Unless you can show that you took reasonable steps to prevent this, you as the employer may be held liable as well as the offending member of staff. This includes third-party harassment, which occurs when for example, a client or supplier invited to the party subjects one of your employees to harassment and you fail to take reasonable steps to prevent this from happening. Your liability in such cases is limited to the “three strikes” rule, in that such liability would arise if you know that the employee in question has been subject to harassment by a third party on at least two other occasions. If you are aware that there have been issues between individuals in the past, make sure that the third party is warned about their conduct.
  • Consider making a contribution towards the taxi fare home, hire mini buses to take staff home, or encourage employees to pre book taxis.  

The clear-up

  • Should you become aware of a complaint, make sure that you discuss this fully with the employee making the complaint. Ensure that your complaints procedure is followed in the same way as usual, and that you take all complaints seriously, investigate without delay and take appropriate action. A written record of the complaint should be kept so as to limit the your liability in the event that a similar occurrence takes place in the future.  
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.