“When people say to me: would you rather be thought of as a funny man or a great boss? My answer’s always the same – to me, they’re not mutually exclusive.”
The words of David Brent are for an employer perhaps not best held in high regard, but they do raise some important considerations when working in an office environment. As the festive period is upon us, the office Christmas party is most likely in the diary already and employers need to be prepared and aware of potential employment issues that could arise to avoid a nightmare before Christmas.
The office Christmas party gives employees the chance to let their hair down, have fun and perhaps toast a successful year. However, it is also an extension of the working environment and therefore employers can be found to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. When deciding whether the employer is vicariously liable, the key question will be whether the employer took reasonable steps to prevent the employee from performing any act of misconduct.
Employers should make sure that employees are aware of the policy on office behaviour and the following tips will help in ensuring your Christmas party runs as smoothly as possible whilst still allowing everyone to have a good time.
1. Set a limit on the amount of free alcohol
It’s not surprising but a number of tribunal claims are alcohol induced sexual harassment cases. Think about setting a limit on the amount of free alcohol available. As much as it is about people enjoying themselves, you also want to ensure that employees are safe. Are you communicating a company culture and are your employees aware of a company code of conduct?
2. Venue & Food
Have you made sure this is accessible to all employees and has disabled access? Furthermore, you need to be mindful that some food on offer is suitable for employees with allergies and that there are options available for vegetarians.
3. Party Banter
An office party should be all about boosting morale and improving employee relations. Office banter is usually at the centre of this but it should never overstep the mark. It’s obviously near impossible to control someone’s actions so what can you do to prevent “office banter” getting out of hand? As an employer, it is your duty to make sure that everyone is made aware of what is considered acceptable behaviour. To prevent improper behaviour you could:
- Remind staff of standards of behaviour in staff handbooks
- Implement a formal policy – this doesn’t need to be complicated
- Lead by example – just setting the right example can go a long way towards communicating the company culture you want to adopt
4. Dealing with Grievances
Sometimes regardless of the policies you put place, whether you educate or remind staff prior to the party or how much planning you do, things can go wrong and it’s simply unavoidable.
If a complaint is raised, as an employer you are obliged to deal with it. It is essential that you follow appropriate procedures once a complaint has been made, remaining impartial, investigating the incident thoroughly and following your company grievance policy should you have one set up.
Documenting all dates, times, names and evidence will assist in helping you make an informed decision and will actually go a long way in making sure it is the right decision and that the matter goes no further.
Employment advice for your Christmas party
We hope you all your Christmas parties are in the spirit they are intended and incident free. Should you need assistance with writing a statement or any employment advice prior to your Christmas party, please don’t hesitate to contact your local office using the numbers below.
Leicester call us on 0116 254 8871.
Hinckley call us on 01455 639 900.
Market Harborough call us on 01858 467 181