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Virtual Liability – Running a Successful “Online” Christmas Party

Considerations for Covid-19 Compliant Christmas Parties

Friday, December 4, 2020

One common misconception is that a works event held away from the office or outside normal working hours, removes your organisations liability from any incidents that might occur.  That’s simply not true.

  • 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.
  • Nominate at least one but ideally two or three senior members of staff to abstain from drinking during the event and to take responsibility for anyone who 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 virtual event, who do intend to drink, to at least stay a couple of glasses behind their colleagues and sober enough to be aware of the activities and any risky behaviour exhibited by staff.
  • Be sure to let staff know that you have their welfare at heart and if there are any incidents that cause concern, they are to seek out one of the nominated managers and relay their complaint.
  • 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 by way of a hamper or other gift via post 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 on 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 illegal substances such as drugs.
  • Dependent on the timing of the event and 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 common sensical 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 set of guidelines apply to ALL and will be made all the more successful if they are followed by your senior management team.

Financial Support

HMRC provide employers with a tax exemption that can help fund events but we would strongly advise taking advice if in any doubt over your eligibility.

If the employer provides one annual function for ALL employees no charge to tax arises if the cost of the event per head is below £150

All costs of providing the event must be counted when calculating the ‘per head’ cost. This could include:

  • Entertainment
  • Food and drink
  • Any transport and accommodation that enables an employee to attend
  • VAT

HMRC has now confirmed, in response to stakeholder lobbying, that where all normal conditions are met, virtual events can be included when considering the £150 exemption.

Employment Income Manual (EIM) 21690 has been updated to take account of this news and a simple example has been added to EIM21691:


A company holds one annual function in a tax year and does so virtually using IT. All employees are invited and each is provided with a hamper consisting of some food and drink to be enjoyed by the attendees during the party. The total cost per head is £100 which is within the £150 exemption and so the exemption applies.

Whichever style of event you choose to run with don’t let the hard work of planning and organising be undermined by a few unruly elements. Communicate clearly and in advance as to what the ground rules are and don’t be afraid to take action if a problem arises. Hopefully your party will be a huge success and an opportunity to have some much needed fun in a year that’s been anything but.

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