Top tips for a claim-free Christmas

November 11, 2013

Year after year numerous employers face complaints from employees about colleagues’ unguarded behaviour at staff Christmas parties. Whilst you don’t want a discrimination claim brought against you as well as having a hangover, you also do not want to sound like a killjoy, especially during the ‘festive’ Christmas period. When organising such events, follow our top tips below to ensure that the office party is a fun, incident free event.

Planning the big night

  • It can be useful to give a gentle reminder to employees before the party that it is a work event and as such you will not tolerate objectionable language and behaviour. It may even be a good idea to ask managers to have a quiet word with employees who have caused problems in the past to ensure that there are no repeat performances.
  • Without sounding too stuffy, staff should be reminded of the company policy on sickness absence and punctuality. You might want to inform them that post-party absence or tardiness will be recorded and handled in the normal way. This may even go as far as to put some employees off over-indulgence.
  • It can also be a good idea to let managers know that they are expected to lead by example.
  • You might want to delegate some managers to remain sober to deal with any problems which do occur during the big night. However, do not simply chose those who are not going to be drinking anyway because they are, for example, from one religious group or older employees. If you follow this tip you should implement a yearly rota so managers feel fairly treated.
  • Advise senior management that they should avoid discussing issues such as bonuses, pay rises, or promotions at the Christmas party. In a past case an employee sued based on the promises made at the Christmas party. Although he lost, you do not want to be faced with the prospect of lengthy litigation - a costly and time consuming process.
  • Similarly, if you have third parties such as clients or suppliers attending, advise employees not to discuss confidential information to avoid any leaks. A gentle reminder not to discuss clients will also not go amiss, as it is often the case that in a convivial environment, comments of an unacceptable nature about a client may be made.
  • If you invite spouses to the party also invite long term partners, whether of the same or opposite sex.

The big night

  • Food is key to soaking up the alcohol. Ensure that there is plenty to go around, and that the selection caters for all. It may be a good idea to lay the food out early on in the evening as this may encourage employees to turn up to the event straight after work, rather than going to the pub beforehand. Excess food could also mean that employees and guests drink less, as well as ensuring that everyone lines their stomachs for the festive drinking.
  • Ensure that there is a mix of entertainment so as to avoid leaving yourself open to discrimination claims on the grounds of religion or belief. Having alternatives to alcohol and a range of raffle prizes can help to make sure that certain members of staff do not feel discriminated against. As certain religions forbid gambling, buying raffle tickets should not be compulsory, but instead on an entirely voluntary basis.
  • If you have clients and suppliers attending the big night, watch out for claims that could be brought. The law on third-party harassment has recently changed, and it is now more difficult for employees to hold their employer responsible for any harassment which employees may face at the hand of clients or customers. However, whilst express liability for third-party harassment has been removed, case law suggests employers may still be liable if the unwanted conduct was foreseeable and they made insufficient effort to prevent it. To avoid any claims being brought, it cannot hurt to look out and beware of inappropriate sexual comments or overly friendly or flirtatious advances.
  • You should consider making a contribution towards the taxi fare home, hire mini-buses to take staff home, or encourage employees to pre-book taxis.

The clear-up

  • Should you become aware of a complaint following the big night, make sure that you discuss this fully with the employee making the complaint. Ensure that your complaints procedure is followed in the normal way, and that you take all complaints seriously, investigate without delay and take appropriate action. A written record of the complaint should be kept so as to limit liability in the event that a similar occurrence takes place in the future.

Lastly, have a merry time after following our top tips, and enjoy the claim-free Christmas Season!

Mary Ince is a Trainee Solicitor at Fox Williams LLP

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