Thankfully employers can avoid Christmas party mishaps if they are aware of their legal responsibilities over the festive period. Alcohol is often free-flowing with employees in high-spirits, and all too often intentions of Dionysian celebration are dragged under by reprehensible drunken behaviour. Examples of problems employers can face at the party include:

  • Aggressive and threatening behaviour
  • Harassment, bullying and discrimination on grounds of sex, race, sexuality, religion etc
  • Inappropriate behaviour that could bring the name of the company into disrepute

Employers should be aware that they are liable for employee behaviour during the ‘course of employment’, which includes the office party. As such, employers are unable to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour and misconduct, and rather than ducking responsibility, they would be better served tackling it proactively with steps that minimise the risks of any potential claims, as well as reduce the risks of alcohol fuelled mistakes.

Reasonable steps to prevent discriminatory and ill-judged behaviour could include:

  • Instigating disciplinary action against troublesome employees
  • Establishing an anti-harassment policy and ensuring it is communicated to all employees
  • Providing training and guidance on expected behaviour, including what is considered unacceptable behaviour and the consequences for such behaviour.

For employers anxious about the upcoming office party, here are a few brief solutions to ensuring a happy and positive event.

  • Get employee buy-in prior to the event. Consult with them over venue and issues such as theme and dress code. You don’t necessarily have to hand-over responsibility – and budget! – for the event, but you may find that giving them a voice increases a shared sense of participation and accountability, which will keep potential trouble makers in check.
  • Set a budget for drinks and food. This will set an expectation when it comes to alcohol intake. Free bars are loved by employees but it can encourage excessive drinking and behaviour.
  • Make employees aware of non-acceptable behaviour and the repercussions for anyone who breaches company standards and accepted behaviour. Of course, you want your staff to have fun and not stifle their freedom, so you may want to consider how you deliver your expectations. Don’t appear too puritan about the whole thing – remember the party is meant as a reward for the year’s work. Stay calm and relaxed and you are more likely to get staff buy-in.
  • Think about health and safety at the event. This won’t be a concern if your party is hosted by an events company, but for those who are taking responsibility for the location, you might want to consider carrying out a risk assessment prior to the event. This will limit the risks of accidents during the event and reduce the liability against any claims should the worse happen.
  • Cater for everyone who will be attending the party to avoid discrimination. Ensure there is food that is appropriate for employees’ religious and cultural needs, including non-alcoholic drinks.
  • When dealing with large groups, it may also be worth considering  arrangements for  the employees to get to and from the event (i.e. arranging coaches or minibuses).