Neil Buck: The festive bash – friend or foe?

This story is over

It’s getting to that time of year again when all the usual Christmas party advice gets trawled out by us HR consultants, and here I am guilty as charged!

Now, I’m not here to put a dampener on celebrations whatsoever, but I do think employers should at least know the risks so they can then make informed decisions and hopefully prevent any issues or problems.

It’s not only the legal aspects, there are also practical considerations too but ultimately it’s about rewarding and engaging with your people in a suitable, risk free and fun way for all.

The potential problems include:

  • Misconduct issues i.e. fighting/ misbehaviour caused through drink and hijinks
  • Grievances e.g. from staff who are not happy about something to do with the event for some reason
  • Reputational damage e.g. from social media posts at or after the event
  • Discrimination issues e.g. sexual harassment, sex, religious beliefs, age, disability
  • Aftermath issues to manage e.g. no shows the day after and long term absence through broken limbs etc, disciplinary and grievance meetings to be held, resignations, quelling rumours, rectifying the business reputation, potential maternity/ parental/ paternity leave and pay issues nine months later (yes, it does happen!) and so on

So, if you are intending to arrange/hold an event in the next few weeks (or indeed at any time of year e.g. summer bbq, staff away days etc), asking Why, who, what, when, where and how?” at the planning stage is a useful way of ensuring all bases are covered.

1. Why

What are you aiming to achieve by holding the event?

Although it’s an event at Christmas, which happens to be a time of religious celebration, in fact the event doesn’t strictly have to be anything to with Christmas.

It can simply be a great opportunity to show you value all your staff by organising a great event for them that they should hopefully enjoy and benefit them in the short term and you and the business in the long term.

However, would they prefer or value something else instead of an event?

2. Who

The key word is EVERYONE!

Invite the part timers, fixed term workers, those on long term sick leave and maternity leave etc so it’s all inclusive. Never say it is compulsory – it’s a sure-fire way to cause yourself a headache for obvious reasons, it defeats the object to force someone to do anything!

Is it partners, plus one, are important business suppliers invited as well?

3. What 

Think about what will be involved in the best event you can deliver for you to maximise the rewarding opportunity for you to benefit and for the staff to have the most enjoyment – a drink-fuelled party is not the only option!

Remember if catering, consider everyone’s tastes – religious /moral beliefs could affect what some can eat and they could be offended.

If drink is involved, ensure soft drinks are available as an alternative and perhaps restrict a totally ‘free’ bar to a maximum consumption level and of course only let those over 18 drink alcohol.

What are the arrangements for your staff getting home safely – do you need to consider this at all from a moral point of view rather than there being a legal duty?

4. When

Is it being held during work hours or outside work hours?

Can everyone potentially attend or does it naturally mean others won’t be able to make it e.g. parents therefore may be excluded?

If at work, can the work still get covered by staff that are happy to miss the event? Will it be on a Friday or Saturday night if you typically work Mon-Friday to prevent potential ‘no-shows’ the day after?

5. Where

Is it being held on site or offsite?

If it’s on site – is the venue suitable to avoid hassle such as upsetting neighbours/ fellow office occupants, health and safety issues, equipment damage, accessibility for any disabled staff, data protection i.e. can confidential information be locked away. If it’s offsite, make sure it’s suitable for all people regardless of age or sex to attend e.g. no ‘gentlemen only’ type venues if your female staff may have an issue with that!

Need to know: a ‘social’ event held off site will be judged to be an extension of the workplace so all the usual rules and expectations apply equally regarding behaviour and not doing anything illegal/unlawful.

You can also be held responsible for the acts of your staff and even event speakers you may have arranged hence why mitigating the risk is worthwhile e.g. having a policy, communicating it and warning of the repercussions etc.

6. How 

Be prepared! Consider how you may have to deal with any issues afterwards e.g.

  • If there’s a fight between two employees (disciplinary investigation and hearing, a possible criminal matter?)
  • If a manager has made certain promises they can’t keep and hence you have a disgruntled employee who now has an issue (grievance meeting?)
  • If someone who resigns in the heat of the moment (cooling off period?)
  • If staff taking a duvet day due to a hangover or embarrassment or come to work despite clearly not being fit to do so (disciplinary, sickness reporting procedure)
  • If someone uses social media and films something on Facebook ‘live’ on their mobile phone that is embarrassing or which reflects badly either on a colleague or the business OR comments are posted after the event that causes offence.

HR Tip: 

1. Ensure your employment policies will suitably support you if required afterwards – are they up to date or need amending and communicating in advance?

At the least you should have policies covering:

  • Disciplinary and Grievance (a legal requirement anyway)
  • Equal Opportunity and Dignity at Work (covering Discrimination, Harassment, victimisation etc)
  • Social Media
  • Absence Management

2. Set the rules/ expectation in advance in an informal polite way

3. Just ensure everyone can enjoy it – you and they deserve it after all!