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Party on?

Cartoon of the office christmas party

Thursday, December 8, 2022

So here it is, Merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

The sage words of Neville John “Noddy” Holder MBE, who not only penned the number one Xmas hit from 1973 but can still be found performing the classic. Not a bad little earner, still bringing in £500k per annum from royalties.

These lyrics could describe the approach to your annual staff party. I’d like to draw your attention to “look to the future now” because most
partygoers live “in the moment” and because of drink and dare we suggest in some circumstances, potentially other mood-altering substances, get themselves into a spot of bother.

Getting invited to a party might be a novel experience, finally an opportunity for Lockdown free festivities. That could be a licence for letting our hair down, (if that were possible!) or more directly taking the opportunity to forget about the woes of the year past and perhaps have one or two more shandies than normal.

Ordinarily, this time of the year provides an opportunity to reflect on the hard work of the year and should afford a little festive fun.  Unfortunately, “fun” for a large proportion of the adult population, in this context, means one thing; the chance for a good session paid for by their employer.  Time to rock up to the office gathering with your borderline, bad-taste Christmas jumper and give the staff a chance to forget about work for a few hours. The only problem with that game plan is the suggestion that you can set aside any thoughts about your role and your colleagues, and it is like any other extra curricula social occasion.

Of course, every event organised by the employer, even if outside normal working hours and not fully subsidised, will carry with it the consideration that attendees must behave as if they were at work. Any abusive or inappropriate behaviour can and should be dealt with in the same manner is if the events had occurred within the place of work.  The employer also carries a risk by permitting unchecked revelry, as injuries incurred can result in claims against the organiser for failing to protect employees. This is the point of vicarious liability, one that many business owners fail to appreciate. This overlooking of the legal position may be compounded by the fact it’s been a couple of years since most employers have had to think about such things, especially with many staff working from home.

Regardless of whether you’ve had a break from the office party or not, it’s always worthwhile reminding yourself of the most effective way to host such an occasion. The trick is to avoid the risk of a celebration event becoming an embarrassment or worse ending up in a legal case.  If you’ve organised the party/ lunch/ dinner you will be responsible for the care and consideration of your staff. That duty of care has been tested in cases where an “after party” resulted in an altercation and assault. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment, the MD of a recruitment agency and several colleagues decided to carry on the party beyond the original venue (a golf club) with drinks continuing at a nearby hotel.  An argument erupted between the MD and a colleague resulting in a punch, a fall, and the colleague (Bellman) hitting his head on a marble floor.

The tragic consequences of this fight resulted in Mr Bellman suffering brain damage. In its defence, the business claimed the “after party” was not an event they could be responsible for. This was overturned on appeal when the judge ruled that the altercation was sufficiently connected to a working environment, with colleagues involved, an attempted use of authority by the MD and an argument about work.

The lesson here is to be on your guard with any such event, especially when alcohol is to play a part.

Top tips for managing a successful staff Christmas party

  • Remind ALL staff of their responsibilities and consequences for bad behaviour, simple rule is to act as they would in the workplace and be mindful of others. It may not harm to set out the facts surrounding recent cases such as that highlighted above.
  • If an employee refuses to attend the Christmas Party reach out to determine the reasons why. It could be shyness, previous bad experiences or fear that it will be a drunken affair having spoken to others. You cannot insist they attend, there’s no law bringing sanctions against party-poopers, and they should be assured that whilst you’d like them to join you there will be no repercussions for non-attendance.
  •  Nominate at least one but ideally two or three senior members of staff to abstain from drinking during the evening and to take responsibility for anyone whom they believe may be at risk to others or themselves. Empower these managers to act and brief them on the disciplinary actions that staff will be subjected to if they act inappropriately.
  • Suggest to managers attending the event, who do intend to drink, to at least stay a couple of glasses behind their colleagues and be sober enough to be in control of their staff.
  • Be sure to let staff know that you have their welfare at heart and if any incidents cause concern they are to seek out one of the nominated managers and relay their complaint.
  • Many employers impose a ban on posting to social media accounts. This is to avoid conflicts and protect reputational damage of individuals and potentially their brand. It’s your call but it may be appropriate to suggest that any posts that are discovered that may bring a colleague or the organisation into an unfavourable light could result in disciplinary action.
  • Reduce the prospect of binge drinking by limiting the complimentary drinks or simply paying for a meal but not the alcohol.
  • If you are planning on offering drinks don’t forget that many staff will not be drinking alcohol, either for religious or personal lifestyle reasons. Ensure plenty of alcohol-free options are available.
  • Be mindful of potential peer pressure that may be applied to younger or less confident employees by other members of staff. Encourage those who do not wish to drink to do so without fear of ridicule or pressure with repercussions for any member of staff found deliberately encouraging others to drink.
  • In addition to alcohol ensure that your staff are reminded of the consequences of being found taking or passing on illegal substances such as drugs or spiking drinks.
  • Make arrangements with local taxi services to guarantee that they are on hand for any calls to deliver staff home safely.
  • Depending on the timing of the event and the needs of the organisation be sure to advise those who are required to attend the following day that they should do so in a fit and capable state. You will not tolerate presenteeism in the form of an employee struggling through a day with a hangover.

One final point on the effective management of events is to ensure that the correct tone is set from the very top of your organisation. You can have the most comprehensive and commonsensical set of guidelines for an office party, but they can be very quickly undermined by a gregarious and free-range CEO or MD. The above guidelines apply to ALL and will have a greater prospect of delivering a successful event if followed by your senior management team.

If you have any concerns or any issues concerning the issues raised in managing your business through the festive period please drop Robert a line

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