christmas-party-perilsEvery year with the onset of the festive season the excitement and anticipation starts to build over the annual works Christmas Party, for some this process is in the planning immediately at the end of the previous Christmas Party and employers generally feel that the annual function is a good way to reward staff for the year’s efforts and for everyone to let their hair down and celebrate. However, as many of us are painfully aware, these functions do not always proceed as planned and can often provide the basis for embarrassment and much worse!

Is the employer responsible for the Christmas Party?

Obviously the employer cannot be responsible for everything that may occur at or following a party, however as a “works” function, the employer and employees should be aware that whilst the party may be held outside working hours and outside the working environment it is still considered that employees in attendance are there on company business. This in itself provide a backdrop for a wide range of incidents that may occur to be construed as the responsibility of the employer.

Is an employer responsible for the actions of an employee at a Christmas party?

This would always depend on the circumstances but settle for yes! The party where the alcohol is flowing is fertile ground for comments and remarks that can lead to claims of discrimination and actions that can similarly lead to such actions, classically sexual discrimination. If you are providing unlimited alcohol to staff it is reasonable to assume that some will be the worse for wear and open bars do lead to over indulgence and even “spiking” of drinks.

Statistics show that a significant percentage of Christmas Parties end is a fight between colleagues, accidents to members of staff and incidents of sexual harrassment. Employers should take reasonable steps to mitigate the possibilities of these types of incidents and whilst they may not be completely eradicated you can actually demonstrate that you have acted reasonably to prevent such problems.

What steps can an employer take to reduce the risks at Christmas Parties?

  1. There are a number of steps you can take, not all will be appropriate but you should consider what is sensible for you.
  2. Make sure you clearly inform all staff of the standard of conduct expected at the party, inform them that this is a work related event and that a breach of conduct may lead to disciplinary action. You can also take this opportunity to remind people that their attendance at work the following day is not optional and that action may be taken against any person who arrives in work still intoxicated.
  3. Choose the location of your party sensibly, make sure everyone can get home quickly and safely after the party and perhaps arrange group transport where necessary.
  4. Consider inviting partners and spouses to the party, this can often cause it”s own additional range of issues but it does tend to lead to a more civilised event.
  5. If you are providing free alcohol at the party, take steps to limit this. Some will buy only a limited supply of wine for the table but you don’t know who is then drinking it. Issuing “drinks tokens” to each individual member of staff is a good way of controlling their intake of free drinks.
  6. Inform staff that discussion regarding office politics, salaries and promotions is strictly off the agenda. Your management should make sure that they do not become engaged in such discussion and if they are aware of it should ask the participants to stop and enjoy themselves instead!
  7. Mistletoe and wine, may not be everybody’s cup of tea as a song but at a party is is a potential disaster. Don’t allow mistletoe at your party it is a sexual harassment case waiting to happen.
  8. Finally make sure that Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade is played at least once as it is the finest Christmas song bar none!

Does our employers liability insurance cover the Christmas Party?

As stated previously, employees attending a company event on behalf of their employer are considered to be engaged in the business of the employer and as such any liability that may attach to the employer that would ordinarily result in a claim under employers liability insurance would be admissible under the policy.

What happens if I face claims of harassment or discrimination following a Christmas Party?

Such claims made against an employer, where there is no physical injury, would likely form part of an employment dispute claim against the employer and would be handled under your business legal expenses insurance policy. If you receive such notice you should notify your insurance company immediately for them to respond.

 
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