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Are you a Christmas Party Scrooge?

15 December 2010 #Employment


Ebenezer Scrooge, from the Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol had a catchphrase, "Bah, humbug!", which may often be used by employers at this time of year to express their disgust with the tradition of holding office parties in a time of economic and employment law challenges.  Certainly, the Queen is not holding a party this year as it was felt "appropriate for the Royal Household to show restraint" in these difficult financial times (however she may be forgiven what with the impending cost of the Royal wedding!).  

In considering whether it is financially feasible or appropirate, employers should also bear in mind the cost of not holding one.  It is after all a time to show your employees appreciation for their hard work over the previous year.  Certainly, it does not have to be the case that potential legal claims should deter employers, so long as sensible (Christmassy themed!) guidelines are followed to prevent or minimise the dangers, such as those set out below.

Dear Santa

Non-Christian staff may not want to attend on the grounds of religion and should not be forced to.  This does not mean that the holding of such a party, in itself, constitutes religious discrimination against any non-Christians contrary to the Equality Act 2010.  The reality is that Christmas parties are less to do with celebrating religion than with improving staff morale and loyalty and thanking employees for all their hard work and efforts.   Certainly employers must be careful to take various religions/cultures into account when planning the date, location, theme and catering.  For example planning an alcohol fuelled night in the pub on a Friday would not be great for Muslim or Jewish employees because of their religious prohibition of alcohol and the Sabbath respectively.  Make sure there is plenty of non-alcoholic drink and vegetarian options - consideration could be given to ask about any special dietary requirement beforehand.

Elf and safety

Assess risk before the event to reduce the risk of accidents/injuries and to help defend a claim should the worse happen.  Have one or more managers designated to drink no alcohol to keep a look out for any unacceptable/dangerous behaviour.  Limit the amount of alcohol available - be careful with any free bar!  Think about steps you can take to ensure staff get home safely e.g. lay on cabs/minibus.

Good boys and girls or Santa`s sack

Fighting and threatening behaviour is one of the main causes of disciplinary action after a Christmas do, followed by sexual harassment*, which is why it is important to remind staff (on the invite/office round email) that the employment policies applying during work time still apply to the party and that staff must behave responsibly. Make sure your employment policies are up to date to include those on bullying/harassment/discrimination/misconduct (prohibition on fighting, use of illegal drugs and inappropriate language).  Remember, third-party harassment may be relevant if for example clients/suppliers are also invited to the party.

*According to a survey of 2,000 employees by the CIPD last year.

Great expectations

Watch what you say and be wary of staff cornering you!  A promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise.  So don`t say you will give someone a promotion or pay rise if you have no intention of doing so or it is only a remote possibility.

Alka-seltzer anyone?

If an employer wishes to be able to make deductions from employees` pay in the event they turn up for work late then it should include the right to do this in its contracts of employment. 

Also employers could make it clear to staff in advance that disciplinary action will be taken against any employee who fails to turn up/turns up late the day after and there is reason to believe that the non-attendance/lateness is due to the over-consumption of alcohol.  While an employer may have strong suspicions that a hangover is the real reason for the absence, evidence - not merely suspicion - that the employee is not genuinely sick is what is required.  Remember to limit the alcohol and provide plenty of food/non-alcoholic drink to help avoid problems.

The alternative to the above may well be another common Christmas tradition - a new year resolution by de-motivated employees to leave you to find another employer who does appreciate them in your own Scrooge version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come!  So often a simple thank you is all that is needed and a party does not have to be expensive.

On that note, all of us at Employmentbuddy and Clarkslegal would like to thank you for your support this year and wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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