How to avoid a Christmas HR crisis

Written by
Christopher Tutton

12 Dec 2016

12 Dec 2016 • by Christopher Tutton

1. The Christmas Party

For many staff, the office Christmas Party is the one time of the year, when they can really let their hair down and celebrate with colleagues. It may seem obvious that the Christmas Party is still a work event and that the same standards of behaviour apply. However, every year, without fail, HR find themselves dealing with grievances brought by employees that believe a colleague has overstepped the mark at a Christmas Party. Whether it’s a sexual harassment complaint or the fall-out from an office punch-up, these cases often result in dismissal for the offending employee, and take up lots of management time. 

Employers will be liable for the discriminatory acts of their employees at an office Christmas Party, unless they can show they took reasonable steps to prevent such conduct. So don’t forget to remind staff to maintain appropriate standards of behaviour at all work-related events over the Christmas period. Your reminder might include that they should: 

a.    Comply with your anti harassment and discrimination policies; 

b.    Drink responsibly and make suitable arrangements to get home if they want to drink; and 

c.    Not expect to be able to avoid work the next day purely as a result of over-indulging at the Christmas Party.

2. Avoiding discrimination

Christmas is, of course, a Christian religious festival, and employers should be sensitive to the fact that some of the traditions could cause offence to followers of other religions. Make sure that your party is organised in a way which is inclusive and respectful, and that attendance is optional in case it clashes with other religious festivals.

Oh, and don’t forget to invite those on maternity leave to the Christmas party – it’s surprising how often employers forget this. Doing so opens you up to a sex discrimination complaint.

3. Secret Santa

Secret Santa is increasingly popular in workplaces across the UK. It gives employees the chance to buy an anonymous present for a colleague, which is often opened in front of others.

Unfortunately, it is all too common for an ill-judged risqué Secret Santa present to result in a sexual harassment grievance. For this reason, some employers have taken to reminding staff that Secret Santa presents must be appropriate for the workplace or even banning Secret Santa altogether.

4. Holiday

Deciding on competing holiday requests can be difficult for line managers, who may need some support with this. Early planning is often helpful. If managers can obtain all requests at the same this puts them in a good position to assess the impact of potential absences and decide on requests on an objective basis. Of course, being flexible with employees over the Christmas period, such as allowing home-working or giving staff longer to travel to and from work, can also go a long way to managing this effectively.