On the 7th day of Christmas my employee said to me… “I’ve had too much to drink at the Christmas party.”
Many employers celebrate the festive season by providing alcohol for employees at the Christmas party. It is easy to forget that in this season of good cheer employment law still applies and if alcohol is to be served at a work event, employers should consider the following to manage any potential legal risks:
- Having a policy in place setting out the standards of conduct expected at work social events and the consequences of breaching the policy. The policy should be brought to the attention of all employees prior to any Christmas party.
- Ensuring that the event is as inclusive as possible to avoid complaints of discrimination. Non-alcoholic drinks should be available for employees who do not drink alcohol for religious or other reasons.
- Keeping an eye out for younger members of staff as employers cannot serve alcohol to under 18s. This is becoming a more relevant consideration as the number of apprentices increase in the workplace.
- Having the party at a licensed venue. Whilst this will not entirely absolve the employer from its duty of care to its staff, the venue owner will be responsible for serving the alcohol.
- Ensuring that the health and safety obligations towards staff are satisfied. Employers need to consider how those who are worse for wear from excessive drinking will be managed and who will deal with this, particularly if there is a free bar. It may be preferable to limit the amount of alcohol that can be consumed and make non-alcoholic refreshments readily available.
- Making clear what the arrangements are in relation to lunchtime events if alcohol is to be served where employees may be returning to work in the afternoon. Does this provide a health and safety risk for example in a factory setting, or a reputational risk in a customer facing environment?
- Providing food and entertainment, which can be a distraction to those who may otherwise spend the evening propping up the bar.
- Reviewing the arrangements for staff to get home safely. There should importantly be a zero tolerance message about drink driving.
- Taking prompt action if there are conduct issues to be dealt with after the event. This applies equally if complaints are made by employees about harassment… more about this on the 8th Day of Christmas.
This guidance equally applies to other corporate social events at other times of the year.
For more details about the issues in this article please contact:
+44 (0) 808 172 93 22
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.