Despite the Christmas party tending to be off-site and outside working hours, staff are still “acting in the course of their employment” by attending. This means you are liable for their actions and behaviour, and could find yourself in a disciplinary situation with an employee acting inappropriately, or facing claims from others about unacceptable behaviour.
With that in mind, it’s best to take certain factors into account as early as possible in the Christmas party planning process. Here’s how to protect your business, whilst still ensuring you give staff a good time.
Be mindful of venues and themes
Not everyone likes a Christmas party. Stress can force employees to opt out of the festivities, whilst others dread the thought of socialising and “forced fun”. If any of your team are struggling, or would feel uncomfortable during an alcohol-fuelled night out, then be mindful while organising. It could be low-key so that it’s not as intimidating, or if a party is too overwhelming consider taking your team out for lunch instead.
This also applies when deciding on venues and themes. It may sound obvious, but one person’s idea of a fun night out may not be another’s. Make sure the theme or venue is not likely to offend any staff on religious or moral grounds.
Manage staff behaviour before the event
With the influx of stories around inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, and sexual harassment claims, a reminder to staff of the expected behaviour of conduct may not go amiss. After all, you could be liable for any harassment claims made by a member of staff against a colleague.
Having policies in place which clearly describe the type of behaviour or conduct that is expected in the workplace are essential to protect your staff and your business. These should refer to your grievance or complaints policy, which sets out how your business will manage any issues, should they arise.
Work with line managers to ensure these policies are clearly understood by your team. You could even use news stories as a prompt to remind them of the expected conduct at parties and other social events, and that what may be considered light-hearted fun by one could be construed as unwanted attention by another colleague. A simple email before the party is an effective way to reinforce this message.
Don’t forget about social media
Does your company have a social media policy? If not, it may be an idea to draft one to protect your business. Drunken or inappropriate pictures on Facebook could have a damaging impact on your brand. Consider whether it’s appropriate for staff to share pictures on social media, and create guidelines around what is acceptable in relation to your business.
Keep staff safe
It’s in everyone’s interests to have a fun but safe evening. One way to minimise risk is to control the alcohol you provide – run a free bar for a limited period, then convert to a cash bar later on. Organising transport home is always appreciated, and ensures everyone’s safety. It is a nice perk for employees to know their transport has been paid for and the company cares about them.
This guidance is not designed to take the shine off the festivities, it is simply a straightforward way to make sure your business is protected. Once you have set these wheels in motion, you can relax knowing staff are being rewarded for their efforts over the past 12 months, and you can enjoy a Christmas tipple (or more!).
Alison King is director at Bespoke HR
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