For the vast majority of employers, the Christmas parties is a chance to let your hair down, get to know your team at a more informal level and show thanks to everyone for their contribution they’ve made over the past year. However, it’s critical you ensure things don’t get out of hand.
We might not like to think about it, but the Christmas party is fraught with dangers that could severely impact employee relations and even lead to legal issues for your organisation. As such, it’s important a balance is struck between the seasonal merriment and clarifying that inappropriate behaviour, such as sexual harassment, will not be tolerated.
Guilty by Association
Many employers are not aware that their duty of care to staff extends beyond normal working hours to work-organised Christmas parties. The legal position on it, and other similar events outside the office, is that they are sufficiently related to work to warrant liability. This means that you, as an employer, are responsible for the wellbeing of staff over the course of the party.
Moreover, the law may also hold you responsible for the actions of your staff. As an employer you may be vicariously liable for any employee wrongdoings. Put simply, with the Christmas party deemed as a work event, should a member of your team act in appropriately – be it sexual harassment, verbal or physical abuse, and so forth – you could be found guilty by association.
In the #metoo era, where people are rightly more willing to share and denounce their experiences of sexual misconduct, employers too, have a responsibility to take measures to minimise the risk of such unacceptable behaviour.
Here are some measures you can take to limit your exposure and encourage a fun, respectful Christmas party:
- Put your policies in black and white
- Communicate clearly and concisely
- Provide Transport
- Disown the afterparty
- Beware the free-flowing booze:
To avoid such incidents don’t encourage mass consumption of alcohol. That generally means no free bar or some form of limit on the number of drinks per person. This will decrease the chances of accidents, fights and unsolicited sexual advances as a result of drinking. If needed, be prepared to tell individuals to stop drinking if they start to appear too drunk or rowdy.
Despite even the best laid plans, things can be said and done that need to be addressed. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, do not discipline any employees at the party itself as this could cause further issues on the evening. Send the person at fault home if necessary and deal with the incident when you are back at the office.
Most importantly, remember this is a time to show your appreciation to your employees and get to know them beyond their day-to-day office roles.