Christmas Parties - 'tis the season to be... Cautious?

Posted in : Webinar Recordings on 2 December 2019
Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite
Issues covered:

It's Christmas party season and, love it or hate it, it's one of those annual events that's important to a lot of your employees. In this webinar, Caroline McEnery, Managing Director of The HR Suite, Adjudicator in the WRC and former member of the Low Pay Commission, discusses the key issues arising for employers to ensure that the Christmas party is not eventful for the wrong reasons!  Caroline covers:

  • Employer tips for planning the office Christmas party to make sure it goes smoothly
  • Legal risks of Christmas parties and what strategies can employers follow to mitigate the prospect of claims arising
  • What are the business policies and procedures in place i.e. social media, dignity at work policy
  • What constitutes inappropriate behaviour including harassment and sexual harassment
  • Employers duty of care
  • What should employers do if an issue arises at the actual Christmas party i.e. an allegation is made after the party.


Scott: Good afternoon, everybody. This is Scott Alexander. I'm from Legal-Island. Today on the webinar we have Caroline McEnery, who's the MD of The HR Suite.

It's all about Christmas Parties today, so Caroline's going to be dealing with those. Some of you may have heard and indeed seen her at the Annual Reviews of Employment Law when she was discussing investigations. You always have a lot of investigations. It's one of the points she made when she was giving her presentation. It brings a fair bit of work with the problems that arise around the festive season and people taking drink.

So, what we're going to do over the next 45 minutes is discuss those issues. Caroline, in case you don't know, is Managing Director of HR Suite, a former member of the Low Pay Commission, and she's also a current Adjudicator in the Workplace Relations Commission.

Poll Questions

Does your organisation have a policy that covers such events as the annual Christmas staff event?

Events policy covering christmas parties

Does your organisation support or organise an annual staff Christmas event?

Organisational support for christmas parties

Does your organisation permit consumption of alcohol at the staff Christmas event?

Consumption of alcohol at staff events 

Have you ever had any complaints arising out of a staff Christmas event?

Christmas party complaints

Should you have a Staff Events Policy

Scott: So, Caroline, some interesting things there. A third of the audience had no policy, just about everybody organised it, just about everybody allows alcohol, and around about a third had problems. I'm assuming it's the ones that don't have the policy that then have so many problems. Interesting little poll there.

Caroline: Interesting. I suppose sometimes the policy doesn't necessarily get dusted off and people maybe mightn't be so aware of it. So I think having a policy is a really good starting point. But I think it's all about how active we are at reminding people in relation to the policy to really kind of help that make a difference.

And I suppose one of the key things is we want everybody around Christmastime to have the fun and the enjoyment of the fact that you're celebrating a really good year in the business, you want this to be really good for morale, you want it to be people appreciating the fact that they're doing a good job. And again, that whole connectedness we talk so much about.

The whole rationale of putting a policy in place and just reminding people of the dos and don'ts and the kind of, I suppose, boundaries around the Christmas party, is really prevention is better than cure. And what we're trying to do . . .

A lot of people will always say to me . . . they're shocked when I would say, "Look, if it happens on the Christmas party, it could become a work problem on Monday morning". And people are always shocked to say, "I never realised that in terms of the general employee".

I was recently dealing with an investigation last week and the employee throughout the entire process said, "If only I had known that when I was outside of work, it would have impacted work, I definitely wouldn't have done", the thing that he did that ended up being a subject of an investigation and resulted in them getting a final written warning.

So, for me, the starting point is the awareness. So all employees are at least aware of the dos and don'ts and the basic principle that if it happens at the Christmas party, then it's going to be something that's going to cause us a potential concern.

In terms of breach of the dignity and respect of work policy or sexual harassment, you know, inappropriate behaviour, theft, etc., any of those kind of very serious gross misconduct issues, if they occur, well, then that's going to have to be something that we're going to have HR practitioners have to deal with on a Monday.

And we sent out our email with our top tips for clients around the Christmas party, and the amount of people that came back and said, "Oh my God, do you remember last year you had to help me with X?" or, "Do you remember the issue, whatever?" And then others coming back saying, "Oh, that's great, but we've never had an issue here".

So, again, I think it's the proactiveness around it because Christmas can be, you know, whether it's alcohol, drugs, or at the Christmas party, you just never know what potentially might happen that could cause a very, very serious concern.

Christmas Parties as an Extension of the Workplace

Scott: Yeah. So you've made a good point there about the fact that a lot of employees don't realise that it is an extension of the workplace, because we're kind of inured here - you work in HR and Employment Law and you know that it's an extension of the workplace effectively, or most of the time, it's an extension of the workplace, particularly if, as our poll says, 100 % of employers are organising things. It's kind of hard to get away.

But a lot of employees don't know. And so I suppose you're issuing your top tips, your little memo, to staff that you did on Friday that I saw come in to the Legal-Island office, that kind of thing, that proactive reminding people around this time of year, "Look, have a bit of fun, but have a bit of sense", is really the key to avoiding some of the problems.

Caroline: Yeah. And I suppose our top tips come from the experience over the years. We add to it every year, and I'm happy to send to the same . . . if you drop me an email after the session, any of the listeners that would like a copy of those top 10 tips, feel free and I'll happily send them. We cover a lot more areas than the Christmas party. We also cover bonuses and just other elements as well around Christmas that might be topical.

But yeah, I would start with the whole thing that, you know, at least make people aware. So maybe if we look at what should the policy cover and what should it address, that might be helpful for people, if that's okay, Scott.

Content of Policy/References to other Policies

Scott: Okay. We'll come back to that in a second. We've had a question on the chat box, on the question box there, which is starting off, what would you call such a policy?

Caroline: I suppose I would just say it's a policy to do with our Christmas party. We're just reminding people of the obligations around the Christmas party because we don't want to rewrite every other policy we have. The Christmas party refers back to the dignity and respect of work policy, the alcohol and drugs policy, you know, the grievance, the dignity, all of the other policies. And we don't want to rewrite all of those policies.

So, to me, I would refer back to . . . I would do a policy around the Christmas party and I would refer to all the other policies then that you have in place so that people are aware of them.

Social media is one that has become more and more problematic. And again, to do with the Christmas party, you don't want to have a social media policy to do with the Christmas party. But in the Christmas party policy, you're just saying, "Look, we want people to have a great time. We want people to really enjoy themselves, but we want to make you aware of the policies and the procedures that occur to ensure that everybody gets to go and enjoy the Christmas party. And on Monday, we're all talking about what a great night it was rather than talking about an issue that occurred because one of these policies was breached".

Scott: Okay. So there are a number of legal risks at Christmas parties for employers as well. So the kind of strategies we were chatting about, what should be in the policy and that type of thing, the things that may mitigate those, do you want to say a bit more on those?

Caroline: Yeah. So I suppose the first key overarching risk is health and safety. And that's the Health and Safety and Welfare at Work Act, which you would be familiar with, which outlines, you know, that we want people to have a safe work environment and that Christmas party is an extension of that.

So things like ensuring that people get to and from the party safely, even though it mightn't be our responsibility to go and book a taxi for somebody, we're reminding somebody to say that, "Look, we want you to ensure that you plan to get to the party safely and get home from the party safely". Ultimately, then you're putting the onus back on the person to ensure that they manage themselves outside of that.

The challenge, I suppose, also with the risk can be that you have a manager who goes to the party, they want to enjoy themselves the same as anybody else, and they see somebody at the party who might be either saying something inappropriate or acting inappropriately. And that's where that, I suppose, responsibility kicks in again for somebody to do something proactively in relation to managing the risk around that.

Again, if we see or watch something inappropriate occur, we can't just ignore it and do nothing about it. We need to make sure that we're going to follow through in relation to that.

And I think that's the challenge even with the managers in advance to say, "Look, we just want to make sure that you're aware of your obligations also". Because, again, that can be a big risk also.

I suppose the other risks can be that ultimate piece around alcohol and drugs, so we call that now our intoxicants policy, and the breach of that occurring.

And, unfortunately, due to the Christmas season, you have people now, for example, who might be going on their own small Christmas party. For example, on a Thursday night, you go out for drinks after work and you could have potentially somebody coming into work on a Friday morning and we see that they're under the influence of an intoxicant.

And again, managing that can be very difficult because it needs to be done so sensitively because we need to first of all . . . I always say, "Ask rather than tell". So, again, we're going to explore with the person, you know, are they okay this morning because they just don't seem to be themselves.

And again, sometimes it can be a case they took medication, etc. So we want to make sure we keep an open mind. But if you knew that there was a party happening the night before and the person comes in very much worse for wear the next morning, it's not okay to ignore it and just to carry on when the person is obviously not fit to be at work.

Again, that's not untypical, and unfortunately, we're seeing more drug-related issues happening the morning after now, or inappropriate behaviour happening as a result of same.

The other thing we need to be aware of is if somebody comes and says, "Well, look, I actually have a problem with alcohol or a problem with drugs and that's why . . . and, you know, I'm delighted you called me out on it because I need help". Obviously, we have a duty of care to those employees as well.

Especially at this time of the year, nobody's delighted to be called out on the fact that they've got an issue, but sometimes this is their cry for help and they're delighted that now they feel that you might be able to signpost them and push them in the right direction.

So again, in scenarios like that, I'd always send them to the company doctor rather than you getting involved in becoming the person who's making all of these diagnoses and also, you know, advising somebody outside of your expertise or your area of scope.

So, again, that's where the company doctor is obviously going to provide useful assistance and guidance to direct that person in the right direction.

The other thing I suppose . . .

Scott: Yeah, sorry. So I was just going to say, Caroline, handling it sensitively . . . I had a colleague who after a Christmas party was asked by the boss if he had a drink problem. And that person left work and never went back to work. Obviously, there were other things that were going on beyond that, but employers and managers, they're not really qualified to assess whether somebody's got a drink problem.

But our poll shows that 100% of the listeners here or their organisations not only permit parties, but if not encourage alcohol, they permit alcohol to be taken. It's not surprising, I think, that some people get a bit drunk, and that wouldn't necessarily lead you down the path of, "Hey, you got drunk last night. You must have a drink problem". I don't think.

Caroline: Absolutely not.

Scott: But there was an issue there that you were raising about the responsibility of managers and employers there. So, if you see something going wrong at the party or somebody's harassing somebody or saying the wrong things, it's difficult to take the correct action if you've been taking drink yourself. So would you recommend that managers don't drink if they're at the Christmas party? Would they be seen as party poopers? Because if they are drinking, the chances are their decision-making is going to be somewhat impaired.

Issues arising at the Christmas Party

Caroline: Yeah, I see some companies now and they actually put in place people who are like the designated person on the night to not be drinking. And I see that happening now with a lot of the larger firms and they are the person who is kind of, you know, available to be there. So if an issue occurs, they know how to deal with it and they'll be the person who has been designated to that job.

I mean, we don't want to get to the stage that managers can't enjoy the Christmas party either, but we need to be, I suppose, cognizant of the fact that ultimately, there's no . . .

Every single year, without fail, Christmas parties provide a huge source of disgruntlements where an employee can come and tell the boss how unhappy they are with them and they've been waiting all year for this opportunity. And with the alcohol or whatever, it gives them the confidence to do what is inappropriate to do in the first place.

And the same with, you know, inappropriate behaviour, the same with just people's conduct, social media, all these things. With the mix of either the opportunism of the Christmas party, you know, alcohol or not, intoxicants or not, people still feel, "Well, I'm outside of the work environment, so I've got more of a free rein because of that to have my say or to do what I feel I need to do".

To me, I'm all about, you know, quenching the fire rather than adding fuel to it. So, to me, the key advice always is there's nothing that has to be dealt with immediately. Most things you can press pause on and they don't need to be dealt with now.

And situations like that, I wouldn't be getting into the conversation that evening. I'd be dealing with it on Monday if it warrants dealing with. Sometimes you've got to make a judgement to say, "Look, what was said, not 100% happy with, but it's never happened before. It was minor in comparison to the policy or to what's, you know, deemed inappropriate", and therefore the person might be happy to say, "Look, I'm going to let it go because it was so out of character for that person".

Again, we don't want to be creating issues where there aren't issues, but we still can't not deal with an issue where somebody feels it's inappropriate.

I've had issues where, for example, a female employee reports in to a male boss and he may have asked her out at the Christmas party or encouraged her, say, "Look, would you like to meet up outside of work?" etc. And she has said no, which leads to a complaint on Monday morning because the person says, "Look, I feel now that that's going to come against me because I said no. Ultimately, that person could prevent my promotional opportunities or . . ." And nothing has yet happened to play that out, but the person feels very uncomfortable for that having happened.

So all you're trying to do . . . you'll never be able to mitigate against every potential eventuality that will occur at the Christmas party, but at least by sending an email to everybody to say, "We've our Christmas party on Saturday night. We want everybody to really enjoy themselves, but we just want to remind you that the same rules within work will apply outside of work", that in itself raises people's awareness.

Because a lot of the time the things that happen at the Christmas party wouldn't happen 9:00 to 5:00 or whatever shift work the person is doing because people would treat it as work and think about it as work, whereas whatever happens when people are out socially, all the boundaries of work seem to vanish and people think about it differently.

So what we want to do is just help the person be cautious, to remind them of the fact that the same boundaries will apply, and I would say that will reduce huge amount of the issues that are potentially likely to happen, happening as a result of that one step alone.

Scott: Yeah. It's fair to say, I think anyway, certainly outside the cities, that social drinking amongst colleagues has dropped. Certainly, when I first started working after uni, everybody went out on Friday night in my office and things would happen. Nowadays, many people drive. You've got fairly poor public sector transport systems and such, or public transport systems. It can be difficult.

But what you have is one time a year in particular. At this time of year, they come together, and I suppose the drink goes in and the sense goes out. But if they take your advice about reminding people of the standards, there'll probably be more people who will take cognizance of that and therefore they can look out for their colleagues that might be having one drink too many.

Caroline:Without doubt. And a lot of these surveys that have been done highlight the fact that a lot of people, especially in the younger age profile . . . again, this is from the Willis Towers Watson survey. It basically highlighted that 24% of 18- to 34-year-olds have come into work the next day still feeling drunk after a boozy night out in the last 12 months. So the percentage is quite high in that regard.

So I would say there are still lots of people socialising outside of work. I think a lot of people though don't realise that socialising if you're . . . I always say to people . . . they say, "Oh, if I say the Christmas party stops at 11:00, then is it not someone else's responsibility or the employee's own responsibility after that time because the official time of the Christmas party has ended?"

Vicarious Liability

But my key advice is if the main connection that the parties know each other is work and if that overflows into the work environment the next day, then it's a work problem. Because if something has happened to bring the company name into disrepute or, you know, to breach one of the policies, whether that's dignity and respect or sexual harassment, etc., then that is a work problem.

Scott: Yeah. It may not be an employer's vicarious liability. So, if two employees fall out, the employer might not be liable for that, but they probably would be if the managers are still there and they probably would be if it happens at the officially sanctioned part of the party or it's on their premises or whatever.

But there seems to be some kind of difference between, "Okay, the official party finishes at 11:30 or 11:00 or 10:00", whatever, and then the manager says, "You're on your own folks. We have nothing to do with this. If you want to continue, we'll walk away". There's still a problem if two colleagues fall out because you still have to manage that as an employer. But you may not be liable for any damage that comes out of that.

Caroline: You may not or you may. Ultimately, I suppose, with vicarious liability or the Health and Safety and Welfare at Work Act, the liability is that, as an employer, you've got to take all reasonable measures to ensure the duty of care you have to your employees is maintained.

And if it is a case that you give them the policy and remind them of the parameters in advance, obviously, you're doing a lot in the right direction to facilitate that. But if we're there on the night as company representatives and we see inappropriate words, gestures, behaviour, etc., and we do nothing about it, then obviously we haven't met our vicarious liability in relation to that duty of care.

So that's where I suppose the responsibility doesn't end at a specific time. The responsibility still continues at whatever stage.

And all of what we're talking about today around Christmas parties applies if people are away on a work trip, you know, if people are away on a training course, or any other work-related activity. And as I say, what's surprising for me is that somehow people kind of think, "Oh, no, that doesn't matter now because it was 7:00 in the evening or 2:00 in the morning".

Scott: Yeah. It's still an extension of work, particularly if you're staying over somewhere.

There was a case a couple of years ago in the UK where the Supreme Court over there found the company liable for the actions of the MD. And what happened there was that he took employees back to the hotel. So kind of drinking after the Christmas party, after-party party, and he punched a colleague who landed on a marble floor, and he ended up with brain damage and the company were held liable for that. So you can have some very serious things when people are drinking way too much.

Social Media and Christmas Parties

Caroline: Absolutely. And I suppose this piece is . . . there are a lot more elements, I suppose, to the Christmas party year on year, whether that's the social media of taking pictures when somebody looks completely intoxicated and being posted on Snapchat or Facebook or whatever and internal WhatsApp messages being sent to say, "Look at the cut of Mary. Isn't she terrible?" and that being shared within the company.

Those kind of things are the kind of things also that can overflow from the Christmas party, which, again, we sometimes forget about, because people think about it in a social context rather than an overflow from work.

Scott: Yeah. So, if you were at an awards ceremony, which happens. I'm sure you've won awards, HR Suite, as have Legal-Island, as have some of our listeners, I'm sure. Then you often find those black tie to-dos, that you're encouraged to tweet. And you may have a glass or two with your meal and so on, but afterwards, everyone's taking pictures, everyone's tweeting, everyone's Facebooking, all those kinds of things. And that makes sense and nobody's objecting and everyone's celebrating.

But at the Christmas party, you get people taking sneaky photographs. They put them up on Facebook, they put them on Snapchat, and the like now. And I think you're right. Whether it's any kind of breach of data protection is one thing. Leave that aside. It's the follow of people and the comments that might be made as a result of that. It still becomes a workplace issue. You've still got to go in there and solve a problem because two or three employees have fallen out on a Monday because of something that was done on a Friday.

Caroline: Yeah. Absolutely. I think as well, as we move on to the types of policies that you're considering . . . we've touched on some of them. But CCTV is an important one to consider. CCTV can only be used, obviously, if you have a policy in your staff handbook, which, again, I always advise everybody once a year, January is a brilliant time, to review and update your staff handbook if you haven't done in the last 12 months. Again, the CCTV policy often can be really helpful.

We also had a very helpful case in the data protection commissioner's recent annual report where a company had to ask a pub could they use the CCTV of an incident that occurred between two colleagues in their pub. And again, the data protection commissioner on that occasion very helpfully said, "Yes, it's a legitimate business interest. Yes, it can be used". So, again, that will be worth having a review if people haven't seen it.

The other policies I suppose . . . you mentioned GDPR and understanding the processing of other people's data if people are using their phones. Social media is a very important one again. Just to make sure that if you are using your social media, it's with people's consent. And again, the same policies around dignity and respect apply associated with it.

Dignity and respect is obviously the overarching policy, which is the bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment, which is going to be covered within that because that's where a lot of the problems flow from. And the last policy that will be relevant is around the intoxicants.

And again, we now rather than saying an alcohol or drugs policy, etc., we would say intoxicants, because we know that people could be the under the influence of any of the above, and it's the appropriateness associated with that.

And that's not saying people can't have a drink at the Christmas party. Absolutely they can, but the laws of the land still apply. Same as if somebody was to drive home under the influence of alcohol from the Christmas party, that potentially could be a company problem on the basis of the fact that thereafter crashing into somebody or whatever because they broke the law of the land.

So, again, I think we don't want to overstretch employer's responsibility into people's personal lives, but I think we have to be aware of the fact that, you know, boundaries do apply.

I saw a recent case where somebody stayed with a work colleague the night of the Christmas party. They were under the influence of alcohol. They stayed at the friend's house, and they ended up suing the friend . . . not an employer's problem. They ended up suing the friend for the fact they had fell and hurt their head and they didn't check the person was okay. They just let them sleep it off and went away to work the next day. So, again, they successfully sued the friend.

So Christmas parties are just elucidation, you know, cocktail, and that you don't want to end up on the wrong side of.

Scott: Yeah, probably their ex-friend after they sued them, right?

Caroline: I would say definitely, Scott, you have that for sure.

Dealing with Issues that arise at the Christmas Party

Scott: So pulling this together with the thing, so something happens at the Christmas party, your advice to the managers, generally speaking, is to make the note to sort it out or say to the person, "We'll speak on Monday", or just ignore it? It's a bit difficult if you just tag it and don't say anything.

Caroline: Yeah, I think each situation turns on its own facts as the first thing, because if it's a case that a lady is being inappropriate to a fellow lady, or a lady is being inappropriate to a fellow guy at the party . . . because we always use the example of the guy being inappropriate with the girl, and that's not actually always the case. So I think we just need to have a broad mind in relation to the possibilities.

But if we see something inappropriate, whether that's, you know, slandering the person, name-calling the person, and it's gone way beyond what would be considered normal banter, then in a situation like that, we'd be expected to step in and say, "Caroline, I actually don't think that's very funny. I think maybe you should leave it at that". Because leaving it continue is going to end up potentially making it worse.

But you want to quench the fire rather than add fuel to it and ignite it even worse. So, a lot of the time, you can have a quiet word with the person to say, "Caroline, can I have a quiet word?" And bring them aside and say, "Look, Caroline, I don't think Scott is appreciating your comments. Maybe just let it go for now". And that generally will be enough to nip it in the bud.

But if it's something that, for example, the person is very drunk and disorderly, your priority is to ensure they get home safely and, you know, organise to call them a taxi, or they might be at the party with a work colleague who is a friend and maybe their friend can organise to take them home.

But the time to deal with that is not when they're under the influence of alcohol at the Christmas party, but the time to deal with it is on Monday when thereafter breaking items of furniture, for example, in the establishment that you were having the party in. You can't let something like that go, but the time to have the conversation is not there and then because, again, this situation is only going to escalate.

So I think you have to make a judgement call as to when is the right time to deal with the matter, and it's never generally the case that we want to make the matter worse. So I think it's a judgement call then to see, "When can we address it?"

The other thing I would say is, as a manager, it's always good to have somebody else with you when you're having that conversation, so somebody doesn't say, "Well, Caroline said ABC", but in effect, you actually said XYZ. So, generally, if you can have somebody with you, without it seeming as the mafia are coming and you're making a big thing of it, it's generally better.

And again, I think your instinct of "How will I handle this best?" is going to kick into gear and you will generally, you know, handle it correctly.

But doing nothing, I suppose, is not what you want to do, especially in a situation that it could end up getting worse. And then on Monday, you've got to press pause and decide, "Does this warrant an investigation? Does this warrant a conversation with the employee or the person who was the subject of, for example, inappropriate behaviour?"

Because if you've seen or heard of something, you have an obligation, rather than just kind of leave sleeping dogs lie, to do something about it.

I find a lot of the time the complaints about the inappropriate behaviour don't necessarily come from the person who was subjected to it. It could be somebody else who was in the company at the time and saw whatever outburst or inappropriate behaviours that occurred, that they make a complaint to say, "Look, I feel this is a breach of our dignity and respect at work policy and this was highly inappropriate. This happened at the Christmas party", or whatever the case may be.

Permitting Consumption of Alcohol at Christmas Parties

Scott: Okay. Thank you very much for all of that. One of the questions we asked there was about organisations and permitting consumption of alcohol, and 100% of them said that they would. But I'm certainly coming across more and more organisations that have a drink-free party maybe on the premises, and then after that, they say, "Look, if you want to go somewhere, it's up to you, but we'd have nothing to do with it", and try and limit it that way.

And still maybe warn them and say, "Look, if there's inappropriate behaviour that gets reported, we can deal with it next week. But you're on your own time". What would your advice be about permitting alcohol?

Caroline: I think we have to be practical about the fact that a lot of Christmas parties are still the typical people go for something to eat, or they go for nibbles and they go for a couple of drinks. I think it's just the managing of that and treating people like adults that's really important.

Ultimately, there are definitely a lot more activities I see happening as Christmas parties now. So people are doing a hike and they might go for a bite to eat afterwards, or they're doing bowling or go-karting or, you know, all the other activities. You know, there are mystery tours. There are loads of things now that people do. So any of those are potential things that people could be doing as options.

Scott: without alcohol.?

Caroline: Exactly.

Scott:Okay. So let's pull it together. There don't seem to be any more questions. If there are, please send them in, everybody.

So, in effect, you're talking about having some kind of an intoxicant policy, having a Christmas party policy . . .

Oh, there is another question coming in. Here we go. Here's the question, Caroline. What about alcohol within the workplace? For example, we have a beer fridge, which is a free-for-all after 5:00 p.m. So far, there have been no issues, but should we be more closely monitoring this?

Caroline: Loads of our clients have the beer fridge. A lot of U.S. companies, a lot of the tech companies have those kind of, I suppose, employee benefits available to people. Again, for me, it's back to treating people . . . to encourage them to act responsibly and treating them like adults.

So, again, I remember back in the day we had a company and staff members went and had their own party, which lasted into the early hours and cleaned out a beer fridge. But it came back to the fact that is that reasonable behaviour? Absolutely not. So, I mean, again, we went back to . . . luckily, we had a policy in place and it was handled appropriately at the time. But, again, I suppose that's once in a blue moon that people will abuse the benefit of the Christmas party or the benefit of the beer fridge.

But I would definitely have an intoxicants policy in place in that environment and I would remind them of the fact that the beer fridge is there for people's enjoyment to act responsibly. And ultimately, the laws of the land still apply because now what we don't want, and this happened on a number of occasions, where people end up consuming alcohol at work and then they end up driving afterwards, etc. And they'd say, "Well, look, I've only had two, so I'm grand". Ultimately, whatever the law of the land is, that decides if you're grand or not. So that's the benchmark.

And in some environments, depending again on the type of work organisation it is, they have alcohol and drugs testing available the morning after, the night before.

So some environments you have to do the breathalyser for the vehicle to start, for example, if it's a high-risk vehicle, and that's every morning. But people will find ways to breach all these policies, ultimately, if they really want to.

But, again, it's reminding people that they exist. And that's why for me the top tip really is put the policy in place, but don't have the policy in the filing cabinet and no one ever knows that it's there. It's reminding people about the policy and reminding people, you know, these are the boundaries and this is what's in place. That's what makes all the difference.

Scott: Okay. Thank you very much, Caroline.

As you can see, we have a few other things coming up here from Legal-Island. In fact, we have two more webinars in January on the 23rd. So, if you go to, you can log onto those. We'll have Jennifer Cashman doing our annual review and then we'll have A&L Goodbody doing the case law review as well. Both of them are on the 23rd of January if you want to register and listen in on those particular days.

This webinar will be available tomorrow and we'll have a transcript of it up in a week or two if you want to check things back just before your Christmas party.

Any final thoughts, Caroline? Any final bits of advice for our listeners before we go?

Caroline: Yeah, I suppose the only other thing to remember is the Christmas party isn't the only thing we need to be conscious of as HR professionals. I suppose things like Secret Santa and inappropriate presents being purchased and trying to use that as an opportunity to undermine somebody's dignity and respect at work. Those kinds of things we need to think about as well. Bonuses and bonus entitlements around Christmastime. The managers out promising the sun, moon, and stars when they've had a few drinks.

And I suppose then just typical things around the public holidays over Christmas and any adverse weather that might arise are other factors, I suppose, that might come to play during this festive season.

So I suppose they're the top tips, but ultimately, we want to use it as an opportunity for people to feel valued, rewarded, an opportunity for great morale. And I think putting these kinds of things in place behind the scenes just ensures that it doesn't become the HR nightmare that it often can if we just hope all will be well without reminding people of the basic principles.

Scott: Okay. And if they want advice on that, they can just contact you? In fact, you can give them some updates and top tips.

Caroline: Absolutely. I'm happy to give people that newsletter if people aren't already signed up, and they can, you know, get the advantage of that, which covers all the other elements that we touched on there as well as the Christmas party, but the other ones as well.

Scott: Okay. Thank you very much. Caroline, you're going to be here next year doing some webinars with us. I'm not sure if we've all the topics.

Caroline: Looking forward to it. Yeah, looking forward to it.

Scott: If you have any topics that you'd like Caroline to chat about, send them in to Legal Island. We'll take them on board next year. We'll be doing our normal quarterly webinars with you.

So, until then, have a lovely Christmas, everybody. Have a nice time off. And thank you very much to Caroline at The HR Suite. Hope to see you next time.

Caroline: Thank you all.

Scott: Bye.

Caroline: Thanks, Scott.

Additional Reading:

Getting into the Spirit – Christmas Party Advice for Employers - by Caroline McEnery, The HR Suite

The Office Christmas Party: Top Tips for Employers - by Blathnaid Evans, Leman Solicitors

How to Regulate the Staff Christmas Party Without Seeming Like a Grinch - by Jennifer Cashman, Ronan Daly Jermyn


This article is correct at 02/12/2019

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.

Caroline Reidy
The HR Suite

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