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The office Christmas party season is in full swing, providing the chance for employers to reward staff for their hard work with some food and often a glass or two of wine.  However, excessive festive cheer (or, more scientifically, alcohol’s effect on reducing inhibitions) can lead to employee misconduct, with staff engaging in conduct that would be unacceptable in the workplace: drunkenness, regrettable comments and ill-judged actions are commonplace.

Preventing misconduct

The judicious employer can minimise the risk of incidents that could spoil the party by making clear what conduct is expected and the implications of overstepping the mark beforehand.  Taking reasonable steps to prevent misconduct can also provide an employer with a defence if things do get out of hand.

Disciplinary policy

Lawyers love a policy.  However, as well as having a robust employment and disciplinary policy, an email to staff, posters on the notice board or posting on your intranet to remind staff of a few basics will go some way to ensuring they enjoy themselves without stepping out of line and will warn them of the consequences for anyone who does.

Points employers to consider that can help avoid misconduct at your Christmas party include:

  • Making sure the venue accessible for all;
  • Reminding staff that Christmas party night is an extension of the workplace and the usual employment rules apply (other than payment of overtime!);
  • Reminding staff that any misconduct or inappropriate conduct will have consequences, whether through disciplinary policies, grievances – or simply having to face colleagues on Monday morning;
  • Avoiding drink-driving – think about offering transport home or providing details of travel options to employees;
  • Considering a limit on the amount of alcohol you provide – for example, by using tokens and ensuring there are plenty of soft drinks available;
  • Being inclusive – inviting all staff and avoiding entertainment, food options or activities that might exclude or offend employees;
  • Encouraging staff to attend but not putting undue pressure on them – especially if the party is out of normal working hours. Staff might have other commitments and responsibilities that stop them from being able to attend;
  • Taking any complaints raised by an employee – whether during the party or after – seriously and investigating accordingly;
  • Taking a view on how you will view lateness the following morning, if the party is on a work night;
  • Bearing in mind any risks that might be posed by employees arriving at work still under the influence of alcohol.

With luck, the above guidelines mean everyone can have a good time at the party and celebrate the festive season appropriately without waking up at worst facing a misconduct meeting with HR, at best filled with regret or the hangover from hell.

Merry Christmas!

For more information on any of the issues raised in this article or on employment law issues in general, please contact David Leslie in the Leeds Employment Team by emailing [email protected] or calling 0113 368 7804.