What steps need to be taken in the run up to our Christmas party?
Firstly take care in all the arrangements for the office Christmas party to ensure they are not discriminatory. This could include making sure:
- Entertainment isn't inappropriate (avoid, for example, the kind normally reserved for men's clubs or comedians likely to cause offence)
- There is plenty of vegetarian food and non-alcoholic drinks (for those who for religious reasons are unable to eat certain types of meat or do not drink alcohol etc)
- There are suitable arrangements for disabled staff
- There is no reference to inviting "spouses" to the office party if you allow staff to bring guests – refer instead to "guests" to avoid allegations of discrimination.
- Make sure there are appropriate travel arrangements in place and/or advice for getting home safely
- Remind staff to take care with "secret Santa" presents, and make sure they are aware of what types of gifts could cause offence and might constitute harassment on grounds of, for example, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
Although no-one wants to be a killjoy, there are still certain steps that should assist in avoiding the Christmas Party turning into a big hangover:
• Remind staff that the Christmas party is a work-related event and normal disciplinary rules still apply. Highlight any relevant actions that are considered gross misconduct under your disciplinary policy, and provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour
• Remind staff of the organisation's harassment policy, equal opportunities policy and alcohol policy if it has one and the need to respect colleagues
• Limit the amount of free alcohol available and cater properly for staff who are driving or who don't drink for religious reasons
• Appoint suitable supervisors for the party who will not drink alcohol to look out for any health and safety risks at the party or any behaviour which is becoming unacceptable. Tell staff who they are
• Take appropriate health and safety steps – particularly concerning the venue and potentially drunken behaviour (including operating machinery afterwards or the next day where relevant)
• If appropriate, warn staff that managers will be carefully scrutinising absences on the day of or day after the Christmas party
• Remind staff of the need for respect and sensitivity when it comes to post-party discussions
Draw attention to responsibilities under the employer's social media or equivalent policy, to prevent potentially damaging gossip via Facebook or other social networking sites. In one case, office gossip from a Christmas party (started by the HR director!) was the basis for a successful constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy discrimination claim. An employee at the party, seen kissing a colleague and going to a hotel bedroom with him, later told her Managing Director she was pregnant. There followed widespread gossip in the office about who the father was. She resigned and the Employment Appeal Tribunal accepted that she was constructively dismissed and discriminated against in connection with her pregnancy.
What should we do about employee misconduct at the party?
Make sure you don't jump to warnings or dismissal of staff who misbehave at the party without conducting the proper disciplinary process. Ensure the matter is investigated properly and promptly and complaints by other staff members are taken seriously.