How to Regulate the Staff Christmas Party Without Seeming Like a Grinch

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 5 December 2016
Jennifer Cashman
Ronan Daly Jermyn

Office Christmas Party

'Tis the season to be jolly and the office Christmas party is almost upon us! For most staff, this is a highlight of the work year, a reward for their hard work, a chance to let their hair down and enjoy themselves with their colleagues- rightfully so! However, the Christmas party can also sometimes lead to unwelcome HR hangovers for employers.

From an employment law perspective, employers owe a duty of care to employees when hosting social events, even when a party takes place outside the workplace and particularly where alcohol will be provided. It must be understood that the Christmas party is effectively an extension of the workplace and employers may be deemed liable for the acts of their employees. In most cases this duty of care can be discharged by careful planning, issuing guidelines to employees in advance and reasonable vigilance at the event itself. Such guidelines do not have to spoil the fun but rather, should serve to ensure that no one’s Christmas party experience is soured and that the only negative repercussion the next day is embarrassment about those dodgy dance moves.    

Tips for planning the Christmas Party:

Be considerate of the diversity of your workforce in the way in which you plan the party. Remember that not all religions celebrate Christmas and that some staff may have special requirements to be taken into account.

  • Don’t put undue pressure on anyone to attend the party.
  • Ensure that the venue is suitable for disabled employees.
  • Ensure that any special dietary requirements are noted in advance and catered for.
  • Ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks are available.
  • Do not offer a self-serve bar. Better to have trained bar staff who will refuse to serve someone when they have had enough.   
  • Advise people to check travel arrangements so that everyone gets home safely. If possible, consider offering transport home or provide the times of the last train and phone numbers for reputable cab firms. A list of public transport options can be found at www.transportforireland.ie

Before the Party:

Employers should ensure that employees understand that while you hope they really enjoy themselves, a certain standard of behaviour is expected of them and that the normal rules when representing the company still apply at the Christmas party.

Send an email in advance to all employees setting out clear written guidance. This should indicate:

  • that employees should consume alcohol responsibly and remember to show due consideration to their fellow employees and members of the public;
  • that under no circumstances are they to drink and drive;
  • that drunken and /or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse, harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature will not be tolerated and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal;
  • that they are at all times expected to observe the policies put in place by their employer highlighting, in particular, the Dignity at Work, Bullying and Harassment, Disciplinary and Grievance, Absence and Social Media policies in place;
  • that employees should not check-in on Facebook and are prohibited from sending Snapchats, tweets or sharing photos contrary to the Social Media policy during or after the event;
  • that these guidelines cover not just the Christmas party but the after party and the after-after party too!   

Employers should consider recirculating the most relevant policies. Employers may also need to consider amending these policies to include references to work-related social events or introducing them if such policies are not already in place. Brief members of Management on these policies and ensure that they know how to deal with behaviour that could be deemed inappropriate at the event should it arise. 

Advise Management not to discuss issues relating to salaries, performance, career prospects or serious HR issues at the event, especially if alcohol has been taken.

Social Media

While you want your Christmas party to be fun, you may not want your clients, contacts and the world to know just how much fun so it is important to be aware of the likelihood of pictures and videos from the party being posted on social media. It can be very tempting for social media users to upload photos of their colleagues looking a bit worse for wear or a video of a Christmas party dance-off. This could raise data protection issues if those appearing in photos have not consented to their images being uploaded on to social media sites. There is also a risk of employees posting inappropriate messages or comments on social media sites which could cause offence or embarrassment to anyone referred to in the post, to the employer or clients.

That is why it is so important for employers to review their social media policy to ensure it sets out the consequences of sharing content online from the Christmas party which may cause reputational damage to the company or infringe a colleague’s right to privacy. If you do not currently have a social media policy in place for your business, this is the perfect time to do so.

A social media policy should make very clear to employees what is and is not acceptable social media usage at work related events and ensure employees are informed of the likely consequences or disciplinary sanctions which could result from inappropriate use of social media. The policy should cover data protection issues, bullying and harassment and damage to the reputation of your business. It is extremely important to ensure that employees are not just aware of the policy but understand it too. Employers should ensure employees appreciate that privacy settings will not always prevent online content from spreading across the web and that even photos shared on What’s App can go viral.

Lastly, perhaps depending on your business, it may be a good idea to prohibit employees from “checking-in” on Facebook at the location of the Christmas party to ensure unwelcome, possibly disgruntled members of the public do not also turn-up.   

Tips for During the Christmas Party:

  • Consider appointing a designated “sensible” person to stay sober at the party who can intervene if things start to get out of hand, ask individuals not to drink anymore if they appear worse for wear or arrange transport home for an overindulgent employee.
  • If you are aware of unauthorised social media postings during the event, deal with this swiftly by asking the employee responsible to immediately remove the offending content, if possible.
  • If you are going to provide free alcohol you should place a limit on the amount provided and it’s also a good idea to make sure that there is plenty of food available throughout the night.
  • If a disciplinary incident occurs during a Christmas Party, do no discipline any employees at the party itself but rather send the person at fault home if necessary and deal with the incident in line with the company’s policies when you are back at the office.

After the after party, if best-laid plans go awry:

No matter how much planning you put into making the Christmas party safe and enjoyable for everyone involved, things can go wrong. If an issue arises at the Christmas party or an allegation is made after the party, it is important the employer and/or management handle such issues/allegations in the same manner that they would had the incident occurred during working hours. That means, keep calm and stay impartial, don’t jump to any conclusions about what has happened and don’t discipline an employee or employees then and there. When you are back in the office, get all the facts, follow your grievance policy and investigations procedures to the letter. If necessary, carry out interviews discretely. Make an informed decision, following the disciplinary procedure and select an appropriate level of discipline for the incident. Most importantly, don’t forget to keep a written record of the steps you take and to preserve and file any evidence that may be relevant.

Hopefully with the boundaries set and understood the Christmas Party will be a night to remember for all the right reasons!

Lastly, on behalf of Ronan Daly Jermyn, I would like to wish you very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!” 

This article is correct at 05/12/2016
Disclaimer:

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Jennifer Cashman
Ronan Daly Jermyn

The main content of this article was provided by Jennifer Cashman. Contact telephone number is +353 21 480 2700  or email jennifer.cashman@rdj.ie

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