Aah, the office Christmas party. That gleeful time of year when employees can take advantage of their employer’s Christmas cheer by eating, drinking and generally being merry. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, we don’t want to come over all scrooge about it, but the Christmas party can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to employment law issues. Here’s a rundown of the issues to be aware of, and to most definitely avoid…
Discrimination. The Christmas party can result in a collision of all types of possible discrimination. Remember, not everyone will be celebrating Christmas, so be sensitive to other races, religions and beliefs, and make sure everyone’s included. Don’t treat anyone badly because they’re not drinking the complimentary bucks fizz, or eating pigs in blankets.
After a little too much brandy sauce, there’s a risk that normal office sensibilities disappear and thoughts of a more amorous nature come to the fore. You’d hope that as everyone’s a grown up, they’d be able to look after themselves, but just be aware that over-familiarity or unwanted advances could result in a claim for sexual harassment. And this extends to everyone, male and female, and of any orientation.
The epic bantz: hilarious no doubt, but words can be just as bad as actions when it comes to harassment. Bear in mind that not everyone will find banter amusing, and that drunken ramblings might cause genuine upset leading to claims of verbal harassment.
Long gone are the days when sitting on the photocopier was the worst that could happen at the office party. With camera phones in everyone’s pockets, it’s very easy for photos and comments to get out into the public domain before you’ve had a chance to say ‘bah humbug.’ Whilst social media can be a positive thing for business, you do need to consider that your customers probably won’t be amused by pictures of your staff stuffing as many sprouts as possible into their mouth, or sharing the rudest Christmas cracker jokes they’ve got. And there’s not just reputation management to consider, social media can be used for bullying and harassment.
So what do you do about it?
Pre-party pep talk
In advance it’s worth considering whether to prepare a statement setting out your expectations of their conduct. There is a risk that this deflates the goodwill bubble, so it’s a balance between not being too draconian, and making sure that everyone knows what’s expected of them.
In the festive swing of things
Don’t be afraid to intervene. In the midst of the crackers and the party hats, if you observe conduct that is not appropriate, it’s best to say something there and then. You don’t need to launch into full disciplinary mode, but a quiet word might help diffuse the situation before anyone gets upset.
The morning after the night before
If your Christmas party is on a school night, do you expect staff at work bright and breezy the next morning? Set expectations in advance, and then make sure lateness and non-attendance is dealt with. And if there’s any conduct at the party that was inappropriate; deal with it sooner rather than later. An informal word might suffice, or if it’s more serious, think about whether disciplinary action would be appropriate.
Handling poor party antics
The grievance: the gift you wish you could return, but you can’t. All grievances should be taken seriously, investigated, and appropriate action taken. Listen to the person making the grievance; take the time to understand what’s happened, why they’re upset, and how they’d like the situation resolved.