What happens at the Christmas party happens at work!

The season of work Christmas parties is upon us again, along with the multifarious associated responsibilities for managers to ensure that festivities do not result in an employment law hangover which continues into the new year. So what are some of the main pitfalls to look out for?

A kiss under the mistletoe

One of the most common types of claim which HR departments have to tackle in the sober light of day is that of sexual harassment or discrimination. Free flowing drink can lead to loose tongues and behaviour which sometimes crosses acceptable boundaries. Although staff should feel able to let their hair down at a work do, managers should make it clear that the same standards of conduct towards colleagues in the office equally apply in the party setting. Employers should remember that their responsibilities to prevent all forms of illegal discrimination under the Equality Act (which includes sex discrimination) extend to any festivities which they organise, even if these are not held on work premises. As such, flirtation or sexual innuendo should be avoided and risqué selfies should be discouraged.

Dietary requirements

Although many employees will look forward to a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and trimmings, possibly with a tipple or two, employers should also cater for any members of staff who hold religious or philosophical views which may affect their dietary choices. For example, halal and kosher meat might be requested by Muslim and Jewish employees respectively; Muslims and teetotallers should be provided with soft drinks; and there should also be vegetarian and vegan options as well as food for those with with intolerances or allergies.

‘Elf and safety

Employers continue to be responsible for the health and safety of their staff, whether a party is held in the office or at an outside venue. The availability of alcohol can lead to an increased potential for slips and trips, and occasionally high spirits can turn sour and lead to altercations, so managers should ensure that things do not get out of hand. Furthermore, they should consider the safety of employees getting home and provide transport if necessary.

Christmas selfies

Christmas parties are often followed by an oft-dreaded circulation of photos capturing the event, particularly on social media. Employers should pay heed to the Data Protection Act and avoid posting any photos of employees without their consent, particularly those which could cause any kind of embarrassment. Staff should also be reminded of the key points of any social media and data protection policies.

Banter, accessibility and plus ones

Managers should set the tone at a work party and steer the course of any conversations which are veering into the realms of inappropriate “banter”. This means that no jokes or offensive comments should be made at the expense of those with protected characteristics (ie. age, race, religion and belief, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy and maternity).

If the party is being held at another venue and there are any disabled employees, employers should ensure that there is appropriate access (eg. for wheelchairs).

Any invitations to “plus ones” should be extended to partners irrespective of their status (eg. married or not married, homosexual, heterosexual etc.).