How to prevent the staff Christmas party turning into an HR nightmare

The run up to Christmas can be a difficult time for HR professionals in a business. With matters including staff holidays, the increased propensity for sickness absence, the staff Christmas party and how to appropriately and fairly reward staff to address, the coming of Christmas Day can be a welcome relief!

By Karen Credie, KMCHR

With such a feast of HR issues to cover, we have decided to give you our tips in bite-size form.

In a series of three blogs this December, we’ll be serving up a starter, main course and dessert of HR tips.

In our ‘starter’ blog, we look at the staff Christmas party and how to stop a celebration turning into employment law calamity.

Treating your staff to a night out in the run up to Christmas is a tradition that many companies like to maintain. The work’s Christmas ‘Do’ is a great way to show staff how much you appreciate their efforts and can simultaneously go a long way to help team building and staff morale. However, a combination of high spirits and alcohol can turn the staff Christmas party into a disaster for employers.

At the very least, problems can include staff failing to turn up to work due to having a hangover, and at the worst, employers can be found vicariously responsible for any injuries to or harassment of employees that might take place on the night.

When planning your Christmas party, you will need to temporarily put your Santa hat to one side and instead, put on your ‘elf and safety’ hat. You will want to provide an enjoyable time for your staff, and also enjoy the party yourself, but caution needs to be exercised, especially where alcohol is involved. If you are paying for drinks, you might consider limiting this, perhaps calling ‘time’ on the free bar at a reasonable hour. Ensure that plenty of food is provided as well as soft drinks, and perhaps think about putting on some sort of activity that detracts away from purely an evening of drinking.

On the day of the Christmas party, you might consider sending a communication to your staff, reminding them of their responsibilities as an employee. Without wanting to come across as Scrooge, you may wish to outline what is and is not considered acceptable behaviour and what consequences employees might face should they fall foul of expectations. Ultimately, staff are still representing your company throughout the course of the work Christmas party, and it may not go amiss to advise them of this.

Both in the run up to Christmas and throughout the year, having robust harassment, bullying and equal opportunities policies in place can be extremely useful. A social media policy is also important. Think of those staff party photos being posted on Facebook! Employers can be found liable for the actions of their employees even in gatherings of staff outside of the workplace – so taking the precaution of having in place, reviewing and regularly reminding and training staff on such matters can go a long way to protecting your position should you face a claim.

It is sensible for at least one manager/director to be nominated to avoid alcohol throughout the evening of the party. This would mean that someone could remain vigilant to any behaviour that errs on the side of unacceptable or dangerous. It is also prudent for employers to give some thought to how employees will get home.

The majority of employees are likely to take the Christmas party in the spirit it is meant and in most cases, unruly or unacceptable behaviour is the exception rather than the norm. With careful planning and thought from business owners, the Christmas party can be an enjoyable and festive occasion for all involved.

For more tips or advice in relation to your work’s Christmas party, or any other aspect of HR, please contact us. KMC HR offer a free initial one hour consultation to any business client that is new to us. Next time, we’re serving up the main course – staff holidays and Bank Holiday entitlement.