30 November 2021 #Employment
This has been updated with the latest UK Government Plan B guidelines
With the Christmas festive season upon us, we answer five key questions to help you host celebrations that are happy and healthy.
How do we keep party-goers safe this year?
Health and safety is once again the key priority this year. After the cancelled plans of 2020, some staff might be especially keen to regroup. But with the Omicron variant making headlines, new rules being introduced across the country and increased public caution, employers will need to carefully consider the appropriateness of their plans.
Employers will need to risk assess the situation (including the involvement of alcohol and potential consequences), encourage lateral flow tests and consider requesting proof, try and choose venues that are well ventilated and avoid overcrowding. They should talk to staff representatives and take feedback on board – if celebrations do still go ahead, it might be best to restrict gatherings to smaller team groups this year.
Are employers responsible for events at the work Christmas party?
Parties are a chance for everyone to relax – but can employers be on the hook for more than just the bill? What happens if innocent fun crosses a line?
The case law is mixed on whether an employer would be vicariously liable for the behaviour of employees – claims have included negligence, personal injury, discrimination and harassment as a result of fights, comments and inappropriate behaviour.
Whether in the High Court or Employment Tribunals, the factual context will be important. Relevant questions include how foreseeable the incidents were, and what steps the employer took to try and prevent them.
Be proactive. Remind everyone that workplace policies still apply. Talk about the culture you want to cultivate. Everyone wants to enjoy themselves – including the HR team. Negative incidents spoil the fun.
Can employees be disciplined for misbehaving?
Yes. Grievances, disciplinaries and even dismissals are all possible outcomes because of misconduct at a workplace Christmas party – because it is likely to be viewed as being ‘in the course of employment’, even if events happen on a different premises.
Emphasise well-being and safety. Reiterate that any concerns will be taken seriously in line with your existing policies.
What other risks should be considered when planning the work Christmas party?
The chance to get together should be seen in a positive light – especially when the last couple of years have been so isolating.
But inclusivity is crucial.
There are risks associated with leaving people out or failing to cater for their needs – so make sure your party planners are reaching out and open to suggestion.
Remember to include staff who are away from office – for example on maternity leave – and to think about access, adjustments and having variety in your celebrations.
Is it worth it?!
Getting everyone together for a workplace party is no small task at the best of times. It’s particularly hard this year – and will largely come down to managing Covid-19 risks. Keep these guidelines in mind. It will help you to avoid pitfalls and prepare an event that is memorable – for all the right reasons.