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How to Avoid Office Christmas Party Pitfalls

Difficulty: Moderately challenging

Steps To Follow

  1. Alarm bells could replace Jingle Bells for employers holding Christmas events this year if they fail to prepare for a number of 'party pitfalls', warns Croner, one of the UK's leading providers of employment and health & safety advice for businesses.
  2. Research by Croner indicates that one in two parties end up with colleagues fighting, one in three with incidents of sexual harassment, and one in five with accidents involving employees.
  3. Boozy brawls, festive flirting and festering finger-food are creating a legal minefield for employers, making the office bash one of the most risky corporate events of the year. But rather than scrap the party all together, Croner is today issuing its Top Ten 'Rules of the Yule' to help bosses host a safe celebration.
  4. Richard Smith, employment services at Croner, says: "Unfortunately, employers can't just draft a disclaimer that says employees attend the party at their own risk, as the eyes of the law see the event as a work activity.
  5. "With so many risks, some employers may be left wondering whether the Christmas party is worth the bother at all. But there are a lot of simple, proactive measures that can reduce the risk of problems during and after the event.
  6. "Health & safety and employment laws are not intended to be a killjoy or a trap for employers, but exist to make the working environment a safer and more pleasant place. As long as bosses can prove they have conducted a risk assessment and taken adequate measures to reduce the risks, they can relax and enjoy Christmas, knowing they have done everything they can to prevent the worst happening."

Rule Of Thumb

  1. Set a 'Party Policy'From the employer's point of view, the Christmas party is classed as a 'work activity'. It therefore should therefore be treated as such by having guidelines in place. This could be as simple as displaying employees' responsibilities, such as acceptable standards of behaviour, on a notice board. The employer's responsibilities, for instance meeting health & safety requirements and providing grievance procedures to deal with any resulting problems, should also be outlined.
  2. Identify potential hazardsJust as with any other work-related activity, a risk assessment must be carried out to identify potential hazards. This could involve inspecting the venue to plan for drunken slips and trips, considering the safety of people going home after the event, and even identifying any potential conflict between employees so that table plans can be organised accordingly.
  3. Issue behavioural guidelinesThis should be included in the 'Party Policy' and should clarify unacceptable behaviour, such as harassment, bullying and fighting. Employees should understand that, as this is technically a work activity, normal disciplinary procedures would be applied.
  4. Invite husbands, wives... and life-partnersIf inviting employees' partners to the event, employers need to tread carefully. This should not be restricted to husbands and wives but also extended to partners of the opposite and same sex, to avoid potential sexual orientation discrimination claims. With the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act on 5th December this year, which gives same-sex couples the right to enter into an equivalent of marriage, employers should make extra sure that, if inviting partners, same-sex partners are not excluded from festivities.
  5. Avoid 'tipple tattle'Boozing bosses should avoid discussing promotion, career prospects or salary with employees who may use the convivial situation to discuss matters that are more suited to a formal appraisal or private meeting. The employee is likely to expect any career promises to be kept - even if the employer can't remember the conversation!
  6. Limit the spiritIf the employer supplies the alcohol, or encourages its consumption, they may be legally responsible for the welfare of the employee if they suffer from drink induced disasters - even if they occur outside of the party itself. The best solution is to limit the number of free drinks and be prepared to ask individuals to take it easy if they appear worse for wear.
  7. Don't poison your staffIf providing a buffet, the food must be safe to eat. Buffets present a particularly high risk of food poisoning from foods such as cooked meats, eggs, mayonnaise and cooked rice. Food should not be left out at room temperature for more than 90 minutes and should be stored below 5C.
  8. Ditch the mistletoeThe Christmas party is the perfect environment for a festive fling but this could have repercussions when employees return to work. A brief encounter under the mistletoe can cause embarrassment in the workplace and put strain on working relationships. While many businesses have informal views on office affairs, most do not have a policy on workplace relationships. Employers should make sure all employees are informed of the company's view on romantic affairs between colleagues and reminded of this ahead of the party.
  9. Curb drink drivingAs employers are responsible for employees' actions after consuming alcohol they have provided, sensible bosses will issue advice before the party about not driving after having an alcoholic drink. It is advisable to hire a minibus for the end of the night, or provide the numbers of local taxi firms to demonstrate that reasonable steps have been taken to minimise this risk.
  10. Don't expect miracles the morning afterA contract exists between the employee and employer that they will be in a fit state to carry out the work they are being paid to do. Bosses should decide to what extent they will be lenient to staff coming to work with a hangover, arriving late, or even not at all, and inform employees. More important is the safety of employees, who may not be fully sober the next day, especially if they need to drive or operate machinery. Employers should either advise employees beforehand not to drink too much alcohol, or remove the risk to safety by giving them alternative work until they are fit to resume their normal tasks.


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