Christmas Party Season – HR Fear or Office Cheer?

Most staff look forward to the office Christmas party all year and why not! A chance for the majority of us to relax a little, they are a great opportunity for you to show staff how much you appreciate their hard work. However, with spirits running high (as well as the alcoholic kind!) you could find yourself managing Christmas Party HR issues well into the New Year.

Whilst encouraging staff to enjoy themselves at this festive time of year, preparation is key to avoid any HR issues arising and knowing how to cope when they do. Here are Gravitate HR’s top tips for keeping your staff (and yourself) on the right side of Santa’s list!

DON’T make attendance at your Christmas party compulsory.

The Christmas party may clash with non-Christian religious dates leading to discrimination on religious grounds, or sex discrimination if workers can’t attend due to childcare responsibilities. Don’t forget to invite any employees who are currently on maternity/paternity leave to avoid a claim for pregnancy or maternity discrimination. All employees have a right to equal treatment so invite them all, including fixed term temporary workers, part-time staff and agency workers.

DO take into account different religions/age/beliefs/dietary or access requirements for your Christmas Party.

Although held at Christmas, the main aim is to say thank you to the whole of your workforce, not just those who celebrate Christmas or drink alcohol! Consider having soft drinks available for those who don’t drink alcohol, and vegetarian options for those who do not eat meat.

If you have under 18s working for you consider your venue carefully. For instance, it wouldn’t be advisable to hold it at a bar where no under 18s are allowed (this could lead to age discrimination). If there is no age restriction at the venue, remind anyone under the legal drinking age that they should not be drinking alcohol.

When booking a venue take into account its accessibility for any disabled employees. They must not be treated less favourably and ought to be encouraged, and able to attend in the same way as non-disabled employees.

DON’T encourage alcohol fuelled antics.

It’s a bad idea to provide free drinks for your staff all night. Set a limit to wine on the table, or a glass or two of fizz on arrival. Expecting staff to remain sober, particularly if you decide to provide free alcohol to employees could be unreasonable. However, staff who are drunk and behaving inappropriately could find themselves in a disciplinary situation, particularly if they are found to have damaged business interests or committed an act of misconduct. Clearly set out exactly what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable before the Christmas Party and remember you have a duty of care toward your staff, even at the party itself.

Have a think about start and finish times, and provide staff with details on public transport links or taxi numbers for getting to and from the party. Encourage staff not to drink and drive and remind them about the legal driving limit.

To prevent absences the following day, consider having the Christmas Party on a Friday if the office isn’t open on a Saturday and remind staff that unless there is a genuine reason for absence, it could be considered as ‘unauthorised’. Do be lenient with staff who are working the day after the Christmas Party, and do take into account how much alcohol was supplied by you as the employer!

DO remind staff about company HR policies concerning bullying, harassment and equal opportunities.

Remind staff of key HR policies before the Christmas Party and that any inappropriate behaviour on the night will be treated the same way as during work hours. Make sure all of your policies are up to date. If any inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour takes place, be quick to get a full and proper investigation completed before staff start disappearing on annual leave.

Office Cheer!

Hopefully the above will ensure that your Christmas Party is a successful and fun event, as well as minimising any risks of HR issues. If you do have any concerns or are looking for some advice, please don’t hesitate to contact myself or one of the Gravitate HR team on 0131 225 7458. Happy Holidays everyone!