Following two years of Covid disruption, Christmas parties are officially back on! An office Christmas party is a great opportunity to thank your employees and strengthen your team, but as your staff let their hair down after a year of hard work, how, as employers, how do we avoid festive merriment turning into an HR nightmare?

Is a Christmas party a work event?

Just because your team are in their sequins and out of the usual workplace, they’re still technically in the work environment, so the same rules of your organisation apply. Members of staff are expected to maintain the same standards of behaviour as are required in the workplace and this obligation works both ways, so you as an employer have the same legal duty to keep your employees safe, as you do in your place of work.

What if someone conducts themselves badly?

If an incident occurs or a complaint is made, employers should deal with this fairly and swiftly. Investigations should be conducted professionally and thoroughly, as failing to do so could result in further complaints. Where an incident involves more than one employee, ensure all those involved are given a fair opportunity to present their version of events.

Can a disciplinary apply?

If an employee conducts themselves badly, employers have to follow the same procedures, whether an action took place at work or at your work Christmas party. So warnings will apply and may lead to disciplinary action being taken.

What if staff call in sick the next day?

Your team should be aware of your company’s procedure for calling sick to work and are entitled to a sick day if they are sick.

If they fail to turn up for work without an explanation or warning, this could be treated as an unauthorised absence and you may start disciplinary action if you wish.

How do I avoid HR issues?

Many pitfalls can be avoided with good planning ahead of your Christmas party. Inclusivity should be a priority, for example –

  • Make sure to invite agency workers and fixed-term staff as well as those on leave, e.g. maternity leave
  • Share the date of the event well in advance and consider how this affects staff working hours or shifts
  • Offer vegetarian and vegan options on the menu
  • Make sure people can get home safely – ideally arrange transport

We would recommend that in advance of the Christmas party you send an email to all staff, reminding them in a light-hearted way, that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and that while you want them to have a good time and a few drinks, this the expected conduct – after all, they are representing your company. Remind them that any issues of inappropriate behaviour will have to be dealt with in the same way they would be had they taken place during normal working hours.

Providing your people with a staff handbook is a great way to give your employees an overview of what’s expected of them – outlining your company’s rules, policies and expectations.

If you need help with HR documentation for your business, our HR experts can help – get in touch.

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