Christmas parties are an opportunity for employees to spend time together away from the work environment, to relax and have fun. However, they can also present risks for employers and lead to potential disciplinary issues.

We highlight some key things for employers to think about.

1) Arranging the party

When planning an event, check that your arrangements are inclusive and not discriminatory. For example:

  • When sending out invitations, don't forget staff on family/sick leave.
  • Think about the timing of your event – parties outwith office hours could be problematic for staff with other commitments.
  • If you are having a dress code, ensure that it is not discriminatory and provides options.
  • Consider the religious and cultural requirements of the attendees (e.g., ensure that non-alcoholic drinks are available and there are suitable options for those who can't eat certain foods for religious reasons).
  • Check the accessibility of the venue so that any disabled employees and guests can attend.
  • Think about your choice of organised entertainment in advance to ensure it is suitable and will not cause offence.

2) Health and safety

You are under a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of your employees. Therefore, think about any health and safety risks associated with the party including the venue, travel arrangements and so on.

3) Ensuring acceptable conduct

Christmas parties are an 'extension of the workplace'. You could be liable for harassment or discrimination by your employees at the event unless you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent this. Therefore, in advance of the party, ensure employees are aware of the standards expected of them, and that misconduct will be dealt with via your disciplinary policy.

Your staff communication should refer to:

  • any guidelines in place for work-related social events
  • any wording in your anti-bullying / harassment / equality, inclusion and diversity policies about expected standards of behaviour at work-related social events.

It is also worthwhile reminding managers to avoid discussions around career prospects or pay – words of encouragement could be mistaken as a promise.

4) Social media

Inappropriate use of social media is obviously not just a festive problem, but Christmas parties present plenty of opportunity for overzealous posting of photos and comments. Not only embarrassing for your business; online gossiping could lead to harassment and discrimination claims.

If you don't already have a social media policy, this would be a good time to implement one; if you do, include a reminder about the policy terms in your pre-party communication.

5) Post-party problems

Hopefully your event will go without a hitch, but if you receive a complaint following the event, act promptly and, if appropriate, follow up in terms of your grievance and / or disciplinary policy.

Be alert for anyone still under the influence of alcohol the next day; think about any health and safety risks especially where machinery or driving is involved even once the party has finished.

If an employee phones in sick the day after the party and you suspect this is not genuine, clarify the reason for their absence and obtain evidence before taking disciplinary action or suspending sick pay.

Ultimately, the aim is for everyone to have a great time and celebrate the successes of the year and that is eminently achievable with some thought and preparation ahead of the party itself.