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The Office Christmas Party: the legal danger zone

It is that time of year again when the Christmas tunes are blasting, the car is freezing, the festive films come out, and the date for the obligatory office Christmas party is set.

The office party is a brilliant opportunity for everybody to let their hair down and relax after a year of hard work. However, it is also important for employees to be aware that there is great risk for anybody who completely lets loose at the party; while they might be away from the office and in an alcohol- permitted zone, the expected behavioural standards will be equal to when in the office and in the event of any misconduct it is most likely that the employee as an individual will be held liable for their behaviour.

An employer can only be held liable for discrimination or harassment if they do not take the appropriate steps to preventing this from occurring in the first place, i.e.:

  • Reviewing the current policy to ensure that rules are in keeping with the current law.
  • Clearly informing employees of what is acceptable during the evening (a straightforward way for the employer to cover themselves).
  • If the event is taking place on a week night; making it clear that those who attend the party are expected to come to work the following day.
  • Without coming across as a “Scrooge”, providing a simple reminder that work rules still apply despite the change of location and that those attending are still representatives of the company so should behave accordingly.
  • Reminding employees that claims of discrimination / harassment go against the person committing the act, not the entire company so misbehaving is at their own risk.
  • Ensuring that everybody has plans for going home after the event.

If you are hosting the party in an office (rather than at a public restaurant / other venue) then you are obliged to provide food and non-alcoholic drinks in addition to alcohol. Obviously, it is important to provide non-alcohol so that nobody is discriminated against and to allow people to sober up when necessary.

Lanshaws is a company that specialises in employment law, if you have any questions or would like to arrange a (free) consultation, get in touch.