Christmas Office Party: 5 tips to avoid a HR nightmare before Christmas!

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Written by: Alcumus
3rd December

The Christmas party season is almost upon us! Those who plan and organise their company Christmas party will no doubt have already got places booked and deposits paid, but what else should an employer do to prepare for Christmas? Here are 5 top tips to ensure this festive season doesn’t turn into The Nightmare Before Christmas!

1. Be proactive

Being pro-active is the best advice we can give. Sending out the party invites is the ideal time to set the ground rules and expectations and can be done in a way to ensure that you are not being a scrooge about the upcoming festive fun. On your party invite, tell your staff to be mindful that they are still representatives of the company and should behave within company rules and expectations, including social media posts!

If you are hosting a corporate style party with a free bar or drink tokens, give some thought to limits. Whilst it is the season to be jolly, you don’t want to be seen to be encouraging or promoting actions which could result in an employee getting too jolly and thus causing any type of inappropriate behaviour. If such a case does arise, you will need to follow your disciplinary procedure. This will include carrying out investigations, obtaining witness statements, possible suspension and, ultimately, dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct depending on the severity of any incident.

In 2012, case law was established about such events and confirmed that an employer can take action even if the event is outside of working hours. The Employment Tribunal Case is that of Gimson v Display By Design Ltd ET/1900336/2012. 

Mr Gimson was employed as an operative and while walking home with a group of colleagues after their work Christmas party, he had a disagreement with one of his colleagues and then punched another colleague in the face. The employer subsequently instigated its disciplinary procedure and dismissed Mr Gimson for gross misconduct, finding from its investigation that there was no provocation as Mr Gimson had looked to use as his mitigation.

2. Ensure everyone feels welcome

So, what about equal opportunities in relation to Christmas parties? Have you given thought to ensuring that everyone can enjoy any celebrations planned? Think about issues such as people who don’t drink alcohol, have special dietary issues linked to health, or have strong ethical beliefs such as veganism. Our suggestion here would be to make sure that there is a non-alcoholic alternative available and that any dietary needs can be accommodated, although most restaurants automatically offer vegetarian or vegan options and gluten free these days. Make it clear to all your employees that everyone is invited not withstanding any personal preferences.

3. Get home safely

Although arguably not the employer’s responsibility in its entirety, be aware of the possible danger of allowing an employee to drive whilst over the drink drive limit and especially where a free bar has been provided!
Insist that the employee gets a taxi or arrange for another employee to take them home, or even arrange transport for your staff if this is applicable. Whilst it may not be your responsibility entirely, just think of any potential headlines in the media if you didn’t stop the employee getting in their car and they have an accident!

4. Dress codes

Aside from Christmas parties, do you embrace the ever more popular Christmas Jumper Day? Often a day for raising money for charity, along with staff enjoying the fun and festivities, Christmas Jumper Day is an event to be mindful of when it comes to dress codes.

There is a huge variety of Christmas attire available to choose from, so you may need to put ground rules in place prior to the day, especially if staff are customer facing. Many t-shirt or jumper slogans could be deemed offensive or inappropriate. A nudge in the right direction to staff when sending out e-mail invitations still allows for festive frolics and ensures staff maintain professionalism within the workplace.

5. Enjoy yourselves!

Finally, we want you and your staff to have a simply wonderful Christmas time. So, remember: forward planning and communication can go a long way to ensuring that the festive period doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

However, should the worst-case scenario happen, don’t step into Christmas wondering how to handle the situation; contact our HR SME team on [email protected]. Our consultants can provide you with professional HR advice and guide you through the Christmas party celebrations. Find out more details of our HR business support service for SMEs.

Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises. Find out more about our services.

Written by Sue Barker, Senior HR Consultant