Yes it’s that time of the year again: hyperactive children, unsuitable presents and parties where guests outstay their welcome. And that’s just the staff! In fact the Christmas spirit (and I’m not referring to the alcoholic one) can be found in the workplace and with some careful planning it can be a “nice” time of the year. It is however useful to remember the employment law implications of festive activities. With this in mind, we have set out below some of the dos and don’ts at Christmas-time in terms of employment law.
When parties are going with alcohol flowing, the risk of injury to employees both physically and mentally increases. Below are some pointers to help mitigate these risks so that everyone enjoys this time of the year.
BEFORE/DURING THE EVENT
|Consider sending a memo/email to employees about standards of conduct required at office functions and the disciplinary sanctions which could result from breaches of these standards.||Encourage drunkenness, drugs or violence at the party. A free bar for the whole evening may encourage heavy drinking.|
|Ensure that all employees are invited to an office party, even if they are off sick or some form of family friendly leave.||Deliberately leave out any employee from participating in festive events.|
|Ensure the company’s policy on harassment is up to date and remind employees of its existence well in advance. Guidance may be needed on appropriate “secret santa” gifts (for example, nothing lewd which could be perceived as offensive!).||Hold the party at a venue which would not be suitable for some employees to attend due to, for example, disability or religious reasons.|
|Ensure that the venue for the party is accessible by disabled employees.||Assume that everyone will eat the same food or refuse to accommodate dietary requests.|
|Ask employees about dietary requirements – employees who have certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat beef or pork for example.||Leave junior employees to organise a large office party without guidance as to the necessary health and safety requirements.|
|Ensure there are sufficient security measures in place at the venue.||Assume that all partners will be of the opposite sex.|
|If partners are invited to the party, ensure that the invitation is to any partners, heterosexual or homosexual.||Discuss career potential or remuneration with employees at a social event – these conversations can be taken out of context and are open to misinterpretation.|
|Warn managers not to discuss career potential or remuneration with subordinates at the party – words of encouragement and good intentions can end up being misinterpreted.|
|Remember that employer-provided annual parties are not taxable as employee benefits so long as the employer spends less than £150 a head.|
|AFTER THE EVENT|
|Consider warning staff that unauthorised absence the day after the party may result in disciplinary action.||Use lateness/absence the day after the party as an excuse to instigate disciplinary proceedings against a particular employee, when other employees have been allowed to get away with similar lateness/absence.|
|Consider how employees will get home from the venue. Consider booking taxis or sending out train times.||Allow employees to drive home after over-indulging.|
|Follow up any grievances or complaints raised following a party.||Ignore complaints or grievances, particularly in relation to sexual harassment.|
|Investigate any incident as soon and as fully as possible. If any serious incidents occur (for example violence or sexual harassment), invoke the disciplinary procedure.||Encourage gossip after the office Christmas party.|
|Try to stamp out any gossip after a social event. It could for example be interpreted as harassment.|
And here are a couple of notes on present giving:
|Include all employees if you are intending to give gifts.||Discriminate against any individual employees when giving gifts. For example by giving alcohol to an employee whose religious beliefs require abstinence.|
|Check the examples given by HMRC of “trivial” gifts which may be given to employees without a tax charge. For example, a turkey, a bottle of wine, chocolates…|
For more details about Christmas parties or company policies please contact:
+44 (0) 808 172 93 22
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.