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Office Party Beware!

Top 6 questions asked by employers about office parties.

Q. Should we have written rules on work-related social events?

A. Make sure you provide clear written guidance to all employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, and the disciplinary sanctions that 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.

Q. Can we be held liable for harassment that takes place during work parties?

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

The claim most likely to arise is probably sexual harassment. Make sure your policy on harassment is up-to-date, and has been brought to the attention of all employees. There’s no point just having an employee handbook gathering dust on the shelf, it may not cover you at a tribunal unless staff are aware of the content.

Q. What if third parties, such as entertainers or customers invited to the party, cause offence?

A. Be aware that third parties, such as the hired entertainment and any clients or customers invited, may be the source of offensive behaviour.

While than employer will not be liable for subjecting an employee to discrimination by a third party, unless the reason for its failure to act is related to the employee’s race, age, etc. harassment can include an employer’s failure to prevent harassment by a third party.

Make third parties attending the event aware that the organisation is committed to equal opportunities, and do everything reasonably practicable to ensure your employees are not subjected to unacceptable behaviour by them.

Q. Should we supply free alcohol?

A. While you might want to provide a couple of free drinks for employees, remember that a free bar throughout the event will encourage excessive alcohol intake. Limit the supply of free alcohol, and ensure a plentiful supply of low-alcohol alternatives, as well as water and soft drinks.

Q. Do we have to help employees get home at the end of the party?

A. 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 encourage staff to think beforehand about how they will get home.

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.

Q. There are always employees who don’t come in to work the next day. What can we do about this?

A. Think about 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.

If you would like further information on a policy for work related social events or any other employment policy contact Nichola Coulthard on 07946 541606 www.coulthardhr

Coulthard Human Resources helping businesses become amazing employers

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