Christmas parties – an employment law headache?

Many employers are aware that their legal duties regarding health and safety at work extend to work events, including Christmas parties.

This means that a risk assessment is a key part of preparation. However, the inherent risks of holding office parties are not solely confined to the potential for employees to sustain physical injuries. There can also be significant and costly employment law implications when staff are perpetrators or recipients of misconduct at a work party.

Here are some pre-emptive steps to limit such misconduct occurring and/or your liability for it, as well as a reminder of key points to bear in mind when dealing with any fall-out.


  • Provide clear guidance on the standard of behaviour expected at the party, particularly in respect of the definition (and gravity) of sexually harassing colleagues.
  • If the party is scheduled for an evening when the next day is a working day, make it clear that staff are expected to attend as normal, unless they have booked annual leave.
  • Although the work party itself is classed as an extension of the workplace, make it clear that if staff decide to continue festivities at other venues after the official event ends, this is neither endorsed nor funded by you as an employer. This will help you to argue against vicarious liability, in respect of complaints by staff who have been on the receiving end of, for example, harassment at an after party. You can still potentially discipline the member of staff committing any such harassment (or other misdemeanour) – even if an after-party is classed as being outside work, there could still be grounds to establish a sufficient connection with employment, but it will depend on the circumstances involved.

Dealing with issues

If any problems do arise following a Christmas party, it is crucial to ensure that you seek advice if in doubt of the correct steps to take or the adverse implications to such an issue.

  • Tribunal judgements include an example of an employee being found to have been fairly dismissed for punching a colleague, and another for having a “tussle” at a work party. However, specific advice should be sought on a case-by-case basis. It is particularly important to be consistent in the way that sanctions are applied to those involved in altercations.
  • If the conduct of a drunk employee is serious enough to justify dismissal, the fact that the employer supplied the alcohol is unlikely to make the dismissal unfair. However, just being drunk in itself is probably not a sufficient reason to dismiss. Absence from work due to a hangover is also probably not sufficiently serious to warrant dismissal for a one-off offence, but a quiet word is certainly justified.

This article was written by Joanna Smye. If you have a question regarding anything mentioned in this post, you can contact Joanna using the form below.

This article was updated in December 2023 to reflect legislation at the time of writing.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

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