Should your company ditch its Christmas party, forever?
The office Christmas party is usually considered to be one of the highlights of the corporate social calendar, but employment law expert at Shulmans LLP, Ian Dawson, has suggested that it might be time to scrap it altogether
Guest blogger Ian Dawson
In the past few months, numerous high-profile stories of historical sexual harassment have hit the headlines, causing many to ask if the time has come for employers to ‘take a break’ from Christmas and move away from the traditional office party in favour of an alternative way of celebrating success.
FEELING FESTIVE? YOUR EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT APPLIES AT ALL TIMES
In an environment where many people feel obliged to enjoy themselves by drinking to excess, employees often forget that the contract of employment still stands, even when the office party is held off work premises. This means all clauses in employee contracts, such as confidentiality, discipline, harassment and discrimination, still exist within a recreational context where staff may lose their inhibitions and discuss typically taboo subjects more openly with colleagues.
SPOTTING POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
This means the responsibilities of managers extend to any celebratory Christmas events. You may therefore need to take action to deal with common party problems.
Managers should encourage moderation even where there is a “free bar”.
You should be prepared to speak to employees who are drinking too much.
It is important to involve a senior manager or HR professional if you become aware of inappropriate behaviour, for example, allegations of sexual harassment.
Ensure you are setting an example themselves in relation to standards of behaviour.
TRY A NEW TYPE OF FESTIVE CELEBRATION
One option to reduce the scale of risk during social gatherings would be to host small departmental/team events.
Alternatively, for a company-wide event, consider another time of the year such as celebrating a positive financial result. This often creates a more positive and responsible environment in which to spend time with colleagues.
The festive period is a great time for social responsibility initiatives, or for a chosen charity.
Whilst there may be some employees who are disappointed at losing the “Christmas knees-up” others may be quite relieved. Managers can encourage an all-inclusive approach with perhaps more regular rewards during the working year as opposed to a one-off at Christmas.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
Of course, if you are happy to brave the perils of the Christmas festivities then put on your hard hat, check your employment contracts, policies and procedures and make sure that HR are on hand in the unlikely event of an issue.