An employer’s guide to Christmas office parties: How to minimise the risks

Many employers want to reward their staff by putting on a Christmas party of some description – be it cocktails with close colleagues, embarrassing yourselves at a karaoke, or just having one big party. However, as an employer or an HR department, you need to be prepared for the festive season.

It is a long-established principle that employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees where employees are acting “in the course of employment” – a concept which has been construed widely. This means that employers are responsible for the actions of employees even outside the workplace and outside their normal working hours, including at the company Christmas party. Employee behaviour at Christmas events has therefore resulted in many employers facing an unpleasant tribunal claim.

What can employers do to minimise the risks?

Take the opportunity to remind all of your staff that the usual standards of conduct and behaviour are expected at any work-related event, however informal, including the Christmas party. After all, a breach of the usual standards of conduct can be treated as a formal disciplinary issue.

Reasonable steps you could take include:

  • Provide a clear policy on the standards of behaviour expected at parties. This should include a reminder of the expectations of the night. 
  • Send a reminder about making sure everyone has arrangements for getting home. This might include a reminder to make arrangements for not driving if they are planning to drink. This could be circulated via email in the week before the party. 
  • Ensure that there are a range of soft drink options available on the night, and monitor the level of alcohol consumption and behaviour during the party itself. In some cases, the fact that alcohol has been provided by the company for free has been pivotal to a ruling against the company where legal complaints have arisen – so providing an open bar proves to be a particular risk.
  • Remind everyone to think about their social media usage. While this can be an issue at any time, the party may see people move ‘banter’ from the night onto online communications, and people may wish to share photos or updates from the event. If you already have a social media policy, use this opportunity to remind employees – and if not, it might be time to draw one up. 
  • Think about inclusivity and avoiding discrimination. Make sure attendance is not compulsorily – people may have other commitments, and some might not wish to attend on religious grounds.

Let’s not forget all the positives of the Christmas party. It can be a great opportunity for everyone to bond and celebrate as a team. Also, the company Christmas party may be exempt from tax if it’s an annual function provided for employees (so long as it is available to all employees at the given location, and that the average cost of the event per head does not exceed £150).

If you have any questions about ensuring your Christmas party is free from legal repercussions, feel free to get in touch with our legal specialists using our contact form below.

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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