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Christmas Party time - Beware!

It has been estimated that over 11 million people will be attending a work place Christmas party this year. While you don’t want to be seen as a kill-joy you need to make sure that you are covered in the event of things going wrong.

Employers should make sure their employees have been given clear written guidance about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour at work-related social events. They need to know that disciplinary sanctions could result from breaches of the rules.

While it might be unreasonable to expect employees to stay completely sober, include a statement that only moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable. Fighting, the use of illegal drugs and inappropriate language will also be no-nos.

Employers can be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts by its employees – even if the party is held off-site and out of normal working hours.

The most likely claim to arise is probably sexual harassment, but don’t forget that the law now extends to unwanted conduct on the grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation. Make sure your policy on harassment is up-to-date, and has been brought to the attention of all employees – a key first step to providing a defence, should the worst happen.

If you hire entertainers for the party you need to ensure that they are aware that they mustn't cause offence or harassment to your employees. They need to know that the organisation is committed to equal opportunities.

Designate responsibility for supervising the event to specific managers. Provide them with guidelines on dealing with drunk or disorderly employees – and make sure they know that they need to stay sober.

Remember your duty of care and consider how your employees will get home after the party. Issue advice in advance of the event about not drinking and driving, and ask them to work out beforehand how they will get home.

You could consider hiring coaches or minibuses to leave at set times towards and at the end of the event, or provide telephone numbers for local taxi firms.

Consider warning staff beforehand that unauthorised absence the day after the event may be treated as a disciplinary issue. But remember that employees are likely to phone in sick rather than simply fail to show up.

While you might have strong suspicions that a hangover is the real reason for the absence, evidence – not merely suspicion – that the employee is not genuinely sick will be required.

So make sure you have a “work related social events policy” in your Employee Handbook and that your employees are aware of its content.

Contact: Nichola Coulthard –

Human resources is our business leaving you to focus on yours.

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