‘Tis the season for joy and celebration! But as the holiday lights twinkle and the festive spirit fills the air, it’s crucial to recognise that the work Christmas party can be a potential minefield of legal complications.

In this blog, our resident HR expert, Sarah May, has crafted essential insights to help you navigate the festive season unscathed.

What can go wrong?

Picture this: an employee commits an act of misconduct at the party, and suddenly, you find yourself facing an employment tribunal claim.  Vicarious liability means you, as the employer, can still be held liable for the actions of your employees outside working hours if the event was part of a work social. From allegations of inappropriate behaviour to instances of sexual harassment, offensive language or threatening conduct, the stakes are high.

Be particularly aware of:

  • Protected Characteristics:  It’s imperative to understand the intricacies of protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, religion, sex, ethnicity, age, disability, gender reassignment and pregnancy/maternity. Discrimination or harassment based on these traits is not just unethical; it’s strictly prohibited by law.
  • Hostile Work Environment:  This could be an ill-judged comment, an unwelcome advance, or a display of offensive behaviour at a work-related event. Any such conduct that creates a hostile work environment can have dire legal consequences. Constructive dismissal claims may arise, casting a shadow over your agency’s reputation.

In order to successfully defend an employment tribunal claim, employers will need to be able to demonstrate that they did all they could to prevent the misconduct from happening.  

Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Develop a comprehensive code of conduct that outlines acceptable behaviour at work-related events. You should clearly define what constitutes inappropriate behaviour, harassment, and misconduct and ensure all employees are aware of these policies. Don’t be afraid to reiterate or remind your team of these before the big night. 
  1. Conduct regular training sessions for employees; educate them about appropriate workplace behaviour and the company’s policies.  You’ll need to have evidence that you ensure managers and supervisors understand their role in maintaining a respectful workplace environment.
  1. Have a clear proces for employees to make a complaint and ensure you act on any allegations promptly.  It goes without saying that you should create a culture where employees feel comfortable reporting inappropriate behaviour. Assure them that their complaints will be taken seriously and kept confidential.  Whatever happens, if you receive a complaint of any issues arising from the Christmas party, ensure you act on them, investigate thoroughly and take disciplinary action if necessary.

Remember, in order to defend a claim, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate you did all you could to prevent the action. So evidence communicating the policy and expectations and regular training is essential!   If you need help writing a code of conduct, delivering some training to your team or implementing a policy – give us a shout at the AC, we can help with that!

And here are some bonus top tips to ensure a holly-jolly festive period:

Lead by Example: Agency owners and top management should set a positive example by demonstrating appropriate behaviour and professionalism at all times, including during parties. This may mean that you slope off at a reasonable time.  Don’t be the last one dancing on the tables with your team.  Make it clear when the official part of the evening has ended; this will usually mean when the boss goes home and when the drinks stop being paid for.

Limit Alcohol Consumption: Consider limiting or monitoring alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking can impair judgement and lead to inappropriate behaviour.  Offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and ensure there is enough food to help moderate alcohol intake.

Provide Safe Transportation:  Arrange for safe transportation options such as designated drivers, ride-sharing services, or shuttle buses to ensure employees can get home safely if they’ve been drinking.

Don’t forget to invite employees on maternity leave:  Not inviting employees on maternity leave would amount to discrimination, so ensure they are invited.

Respect Differences:  Remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas! So be mindful of this and ensure that any festive celebration can be inclusive for all.  Consider doing something to reward your team during working hours for anyone who doesn’t want to come along to the party and remember some employees might prefer not to participate in certain activities, like dancing. Respect their choices and ensure there are comfortable spaces for mingling and socialising.

By implementing these measures, agency owners can create a safer environment during work-related events and reduce the risk of misconduct allegations. 

Despite best efforts, sometimes things do happen.  If you need help managing the fall out of a Christmas party, contact Sarah on sarah@theagencycollective.co.uk for non-judgemental and impartial advice.

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