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Christmas crackers at the Xmas party

Mistletoe and wine are often the precursors to a less than happy Christmas aftermath for employers, says employment lawyer Philip Henson.

Christmas is more than mistletoe and wine Sarah Jane Taylor

Human resources practitioners often cringe when the words Christmas party are mentioned. Many employment lawyers on the other hand see a spike in work levels due to swathes of grievances and claims emanating from Christmas parties. As the party season reaches its tumult it is worth carrying out a risk assessment to consider how you might be able to reduce the risk of possible grievances/ employment tribunal claims. Common grievances from Christmas parties include, just for starters, sexual harassment/violence and excessive drinking.

Consider some of the following Christmas crackers:

• Whether you really need to have mistletoe hanging in the middle of the dance floor? 
• Will your entertainment or speakers offend anybody on the evening? Should they be briefed beforehand?
• Consider having non-alcoholic drinks available to give more options, and perhaps to limit the amount (or type) of free drinks available.
• How would arrests for violent offences affect your business reputation internally and externally?

1. How can you avoid discrimination?

• Do not pressure everyone to attend the Christmas party if they do not want to on religious grounds. Ask about special dietary requirements beforehand.
• Have you invited members of staff who are away from the office on maternity/paternity leave?
• Does the venue provide reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination against any members of staff with disabilities?

2. How can you remind staff that employment related rights do not fizzle away when the champagne corks are popped as they cross the parapet to the Christmas Party?

• Have you reviewed your current staff handbook/staff policies; or arranged staff training?
• Should you circulate, or display, your staff handbook or specific policies (e.g. sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination, use of illegal drugs, equal opportunities, and disciplinary rules) prior to the party?
• Are there any specific matters you need to emphasize such as fire exits and where not to smoke etc?

3.  How can you learn from the ghosts of Christmas past?

• Have you told staff that any Secret Santa gifts should be inoffensive?
• Have there been any physical fights?
• Have members of staff used the company credit cards for unauthorized expenses?
• How do you deal with post-party absenteeism?
• Have you received complaints of sexual harassment? If so, how were these investigated?

4. How can you ensure that your employees get home safely?

• Issue advice about not drinking and driving.
• Will you arrange taxis for staff or circulate telephone numbers of registered taxi companies?
• Will you send a link to websites of public transport so that staff can make their own arrangements, or suggest that they check the time of their last bus/train home?

Philip Henson - Partner and Head of Employment Law DKLM LLP (


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10 December 2013

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