It’s the season to be jolly!!
Employers hold a duty of care towards their employees throughout the employee’s employment and this extends to events such as the Christmas party. It’s important that certain factors are considered by employers, such as: –
- Setting clear guidelines of the behaviour expected at the Christmas party, such as violence, unwanted conduct, discriminatory remarks and excessive alcohol consumption, will not be accepted.
- Reminding all employees of the policies and procedures in place and the consequences of their actions e.g. disciplinary.
- Limiting the amount of free alcohol, supplying enough food and providing non-alcoholic drinks can support in limiting the risk for employees becoming too merry. It’s important that employees who are under the age of 18 do not drink. Employers should also take into consideration those employees who do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods.
- Ensuring that post party travel arrangements are taken into consideration to reduce the risk of employees on their journey home.
- Asking employees not to post on social media, such posts could cause embarrassment or offence to others and if an employee’s photo appears on social media and they haven’t given their consent, could raise certain data protection issues.
- Making employees aware that absence or lateness will not be tolerated the morning after the Christmas party and will be dealt with via the disciplinary policy. Furthermore, employers should be aware of employees who do turn up to work the next day drunk, especially if their job involves driving or operating machinery.
Christmas is both a Christian holiday as well as a state holiday, holding an event at Christmas is not likely to fall foul of the Employment Equality Regulations 2003, however, if the Christmas party is presented as a “boozy night out” this could potentially seclude employees whose faith could prevent them from attending such night out, which would be discriminatory. This also extends to female employees who may have childcare commitments as you could risk having a sex discrimination claim made against the company.
In the case of Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors, an employee claimed constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment after malicious gossip was spread about her pregnancy following the Christmas party. Nixon had been seen by employees kissing another employee and going into a hotel room with him. The HR manager had knowledge of the employee’s pregnancy and began gossiping with other employees as to whom the father was. The employee raised a formal grievance, however, this wasn’t dealt with accordingly and on appealing this case, the EAT held that the tribunal was wrong in not making findings of pregnancy related harassment and discrimination and also sex discrimination. Interestingly, the fact that the employee had put her sexual life into the public domain, and acted in a way which was bound to provoke gossip, did not assist the employer in relation to either liability.
This should be served as a reminder to all employers that precautions need to be taken both during and after the Christmas party. Employers should have both procedures and policies relating to bullying and harassment, disciplinary and grievance and also discrimination to ensure that they are in a better position to deal with these issues, if and when they arise.
If you would like advice on the Christmas Party or require your policies and procedures to be updated, please contact a member of the Solve.HR team.