HCR Law Events

25 October 2022

Christmas parties: employment claims coming to town…

Ensure Santa Claus is the only one coming to town this year – with guidance on avoiding a New Year HR hangover following the festive period. As the office Christmas party makes a comeback, it is important for employers to be mindful of the potential fallout from Christmas-related activities which could result in employment tribunal claims.

Making a list and checking it twice…

When it comes to Christmas party planning, employers should be conscious of safeguarding against the potential risks posed by Christmas parties. While it is challenging to organise an event which appeals to everyone, one which provides an element of choice is recommended to ensure an inclusive event.

Venues: Consider whether a venue is appropriate and respects the differing views of its employees.  To avoid an indirect discrimination claim, consider whether it is a suitable venue.

For example, a bar may be an inappropriate venue if it is against an individuals’ religion or belief. In addition, ensure there are facilities for those with disabilities and be mindful of those who may have hidden disabilities. For example, individuals may have auditory disabilities or epilepsy – which may mean a club with loud music or flashing lights is not a suitable venue.

Date and time: A Christmas party should be an optional choice for employees, and they should be made aware they will not suffer any consequences for opting not to attend.

While it is impossible to find a suitable date and time for everyone, employers ought to be mindful of a number of factors when choosing a date. These include avoiding dates which clash with other faith’s religious holidays or considering employees who have caring duties.

Alcohol and food: Be mindful of alcohol-fuelled employees’ becoming the next morning’s office gossip.  Employers’ will be aware of the risks posed by employees when under the influence of alcohol. Employers should communicate the standards of behaviour expected during a Christmas party and consider setting limits on the amount of alcohol offered, such as a set number of drink tokens per employee.

Be aware, not all employees will want the customary Christmas boozy night out. Individuals may have personal reasons for avoiding alcohol – therefore choosing an activity that is not focused on drinking alcohol is recommended.

These days, many venues offer more than the traditional Christmas lunch. Therefore, think about catering required to suit different diets. Some employees may not celebrate Christmas, so offering a choice to suit any religious or personal beliefs will avoid unintentional exclusion. We recommend requesting this information early on from employees to ensure the event accommodates employees choices.

Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…

For some, the interpretation of Secret Santa is the opportunity to get the party started with a “laugh” amongst the team. Generally, gifts are well received, with employees’ willing to take teasing on the chin. However for others, it can be a daunting experience to potentially be ridiculed, humiliated or offended in front of other colleagues.

At worst, a seemingly innocent game of Secret Santa could lead to an unlawful harassment claim. To avoid any such claims, it is recommended employers make participation voluntary and issue guidelines to employees who wish to be involved. Guidelines should make clear gifts should be respectful and appropriate. An employer will be equally liable for the actions of its employees, so setting a clear expectation will offer an employer better protection.

You better watch out…

While employers do not want to hear collective jeers of “bah-humbug” from their employees, it should be remembered a Christmas party organised for employee’s is considered an extension of the workplace.

An employer will be liable for the actions of those who spoil the festivities. As such, we recommend communicating with employees to set friendly reminders, guidelines and expectations for a Christmas party.

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About the Author
Victoria Thatcher, Solicitor

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