While many office parties in December pass off without mishap, the risk to employers is significant and can land you in unexpected legal or HR hot water.
Office Christmas Parties

With alcohol and a relaxed atmosphere it’s easy to forget that work parties are legally viewed as an extension of your workplace. In this article, Gallagher offer some tips for ensuring your party goes off without a hitch.

De-risk by making expectations clear

No matter how much you trust your staff to be on their best behaviour, it’s worth having a clear risk policy for how you will manage your office Christmas party and ensure it’s one that emphasises the message that actions have consequences. The main risk areas to plan for are people – specifically behaviour; the venue whether in the office or off -site; and lastly travel to and from the party. As an employer you are vicariously responsible for the actions and conduct of your employees and that could mean a public liability claim. Plus, always remember your duty of care as an employer, particularly your health and safety obligations. The more risks you spot and neutralise with good planning (and suitable insurance cover), the lower your public or employers’ liability risk if an incident does occur.

Discrimination – a checklist

Discrimination has many legal definitions – from equal opportunities, anti-harassment and bullying to gender, race, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs, pregnancy and maternity or marriage and civil partnership. If you do not yet have a clear discrimination policy, now is a good time to put one in place and certainly a sensible moment to double-check the policies you do have.

  • Do review these policies and ensure they are up-to-date with current employment legislation.
  • Do communicate these policies clearly to your workforce and re-iterate them shortly before your party, along with the ramifications of a breach: disciplinary action, demotion or potential dismissal. It may seem obvious but highlighting personal responsibility goes a long way to ensuring a trouble-free lunch or night out.
  • Do make sure your managers and supervisors know what you expect of them and that they understand the company policy and can communicate it.
  • Do make sure you have robust complaint handling procedures in place.
  • Do remember that if you go to the pub before the party, it counts as an extension of the workplace - as does any venue you attend for the party.

Don’t let social’s sabotage your data protection plan

It goes without saying that there will be a plenty of amateur photography going on at the party and it’s very tempting for people to capture an embarrassing or unexpected moment. However, be closely aware that there are data protection issues around being photographed without consent and for those images then to be shared on Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. Further to this, there’s a higher risk of inappropriate messages or images going online – pretty much in real-time - that could damage the reputation of individuals and your organisation. So how can this issue be handled? There’s no need to ban social media at the party but absolutely ensure that everyone knows exactly where the digital red lines are – and what the consequences are for breaching them.

Minimise slips and trips

Trips, slips, falls, cuts and burns are common cause of injuries over the Christmas period – not least at the office party. Whether you are holding the party at your office or at a third party venue, then do the risk assessment. Wherever you hold it, it still counts as an extension of the workplace. With third party venues, pay a visit and give it a thorough once-over – and remember to check your public liability cover.

Getting home…

If it’s practical, try and ensure no-one might be tempted to drink and drive. Lay on coach, minicab or taxi transport that means people can get home safely and without risk to themselves or others. Alternatively, think about ending the party before public transport stops operating for the night.

…And handling the morning after.

If the day after is a working one, then you have to judge how lenient (or not) you will be with absenteeism. Our best-practice advice would be to let people know that you will be monitoring attendance and that disciplinary action is an option.

How can your insurance respond?

Risk managing the Christmas party is largely down to common sense – and about planning for people’s behaviour when alcohol is involved. However you should check your workplace behaviour and discrimination policies and undertake a risk assessment for the party that ensures a safe environment for all. On the insurance side, you should check your own public liability cover and the public liability cover of any third party venue you intend to book as well as your employer’s liability cover.