Escape an HR hangover after work Christmas parties

It’s Christmas time – a time for celebration, letting your hair down, and a good excuse to throw a Christmas party. But employers and employees should be careful not to overdo it.

The Christmas party has gained a bit of a reputation for being a place where people drink too much, often leading them to saying or doing something they come to regret when their hangover kicks in.

It’s important to be aware – employees still have a responsibility to behave professionally and employers have a responsibility to ensure the works party is a safe environment for their people. Because if you don’t, you could be unwrapping a lot of issues in the new year.

Lots of employees love getting into the festive spirit and that’s great – but if they get up to no good then you could be liable for their actions. Even if it takes place in a local bar, restaurant or hotel, employers can be held liable for what happens during or after the party!

Although it is meant to be a time for a bit of fun with colleagues, some parties can get out of hand. And that could leave employers with a HR hangover!

A study by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that one in ten workers know someone facing dismissal or disciplinary action following their behaviour at a company Christmas party.

The report showed that the most common reasons for disciplinary action were:

  • Fighting (29%)
  • Threatening behaviour (19%)
  • Sexual harassment (17%)
  • Bullying (12%)
  • Other inappropriate behaviour (7%)

Employee behaviour at Christmas parties

Recent research for reputation management company Igniyte backs up the findings in the CIPD study. Researchers spoke to 1,000 UK workers and found that one in five employees had been to a work Christmas party where there had been a physical altercation. It also found:

  • 11% admitted they, or someone at work, had been suspended for their misconduct at a company Christmas party
  • 10% regretted doing or saying something at a Christmas work party
  • 20% said their personal reputation, or a colleague’s, had been negatively impacted at a work Christmas do

Employers’ responsibilities

Some employers may think that what happens at the work Christmas party stays at the work Christmas party. But that’s not the case!

The Christmas party may take place out of normal office hours but it can be classed as extension of employment. As a result, employers become liable for incidents caused by employees at such events. Employers are liable for employee actions at work, which is covered by Section 109 of the Equality Act 2010.

Court cases

Events that take place at work Christmas parties have been the basis for many employment tribunals and court cases. For example, in Sellers v Y H Training Services Ltd, the employer’s MD touched the claimant who was wearing a sleeveless dress on a bare shoulder and arm. This was found to be an act of sexual harassment. The duration of the contact was longer than ordinary social contact and, as the managing director would not have touched a man in this way, it had sexual connotations.

Another case dates back some decades. In the Chief Constable of the Lincolnshire Police v Stubbs case, the claimant was sexually harassed by colleagues when she went for drinks at a pub. The employer was held liable because the acts had taken place at social gatherings that could be regarded as an extension of the claimant’s employment.

Shrewd HR’s top tips for employers

Employers should not cancel their Christmas parties because of past cases. Getting advice from a HR professional and understanding your legal position will help reduce the chances of problems. Our five top tips will help you ensure your work Christmas party is remembered for all the right reasons.

  1. Invite everyone: No matter what job an employee carries out, don’t discriminate! Even part-time or home workers should be invited. Those on sick leave (providing their illness isn’t prohibitive) should also receive an invite. But don’t expect people to attend. Some will have legitimate reasons and shouldn’t be pressurised to attend.
  2. Cater for all: Make sure the venue can cater for all dietary requirements. And check that they have suitable access for all employees. Also, make sure that if the venue provides entertainment, it isn’t so risqué that it could cause offence.
  3. Be clear about behaviour: While encouraging people to enjoy their time, make it clear that this is a work event and appropriate behaviour is expected. Explain that misconduct may result in disciplinary action.
  4. Watch the booze: Don’t let alcohol consumption get out of control. If you have an open bar, restrict the number of free drinks. Ensure line managers set a good example and remind employees of your drug and alcohol policy ahead of time. If you have employees under 18, ensure they are not allowed access to alcohol.
  5. Don’t talk shop: It’s easy to slip work matters into conversation, but try and avoid it. Some managers may slip up and let cats out of bags, particularly about pay and conditions. You don’t want to face a tribunal due to careless chat.

Shrewd HR’s top tips for employees

Employees can easily take steps to ensure they don’t end up having regrets. Here are our tips:

  1. Don’t down drink: You have worked hard and may think downing a few beers is alright. But be careful. You could end up regretting drinking too much and be left with a bigger headache than a hangover if you go overboard!
  2. Be professional: Would you usually mix and mingle outside of work? Remember, this is a work event so don’t let a loose tongue tie you up in knots after the event.
  3. Edit your social media: As tempting as it might be to share a video of John from accounts in a compromising position, remember you’re representing your company. Think about what you post as you could face disciplinary action if you share anything unsuitable on socials.
  4. Careless talk costs jobs: You may have a genuine complaint about a situation or a colleague. But discussing it at the work Christmas party isn’t the place to share it!
  5. Forget the office romance: The mix of alcohol and fun can cause even the most reserved character to go off the rails. Office romances rarely end well, especially if one or both employees is engaged or married. So avoid getting involved with colleagues romantically, just enjoy your night!

How can shrewd HR help?

Hopefully, you’ll follow our tips and have a great Christmas party. But in the event of issues – before or after the party – it’s important to get HR advice from a team that understands the importance of people management. Be shrewd and Contact our team today for further advice and support.

"20% said their personal reputation, or a colleague’s, had been negatively impacted at a work Christmas do!"