Tis the season to be jolly.......

A good dose of common sense is prescribed to prevent employers being afflicted by an unwanted Christmas “hangover”

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but also the season to be wary!

The end of the calendar year and the festive season are causes for celebration, and often the highlight of those celebrations centre upon the staff Christmas party.
However, employers must appreciate that the inclination to unwind and indulge in excessive Christmas cheer can present risks which should be carefully managed.
Here are some tips to help employers manage the risks and minimise claims which could arise if standards are not enforced and adequate supervision is not put in place.
  • Have policies in place which deal with conduct, appropriate behaviour, sexual harassment, social and electronic media and mutual respect, within the workplace.
  • Enforce these policies consistently throughout the year and remind staff before the Christmas function, perhaps by way of email or other form of effective communication, that staff are expected to adhere to these policies.
    • What is absolutely clear from the authorities is that employment policies cannot have application if the policies are ignored by all and that general ignorance is overlooked by the employer.
  • If an unsavoury incident involving a staff member does occur:
    • Investigate the incident quickly and fairly;
    • Check the facts closely;
    • Do not react to the incident in a “knee jerk” fashion, particularly when determining the appropriate sanction to apply against the employee who has exhibited inappropriate behaviour.
  • Clearly communicate to staff that Christmas parties are still linked to the workplace and that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated, despite the fact that the function may occur out of work hours and outside of the physical confines of the office or workplace.
  • Employers should not be complicit in enabling or encouraging bad behaviour.
    • Employers must engage in the responsible service of alcohol and if the function is being held away from the office or workplace then the staff and management of the premises at which the function is being held should be informed of the employer’s expectations as to the responsible service of alcohol.
    • Designated members of the employer’s management team should monitor the employees’ behaviour and intervene as soon as anything “gets out of hand”.
    • Make sure food is served regularly throughout the event and that non-alcoholic drinks are available.
  • Set clear starting and finishing times for the function.This will assist to set the parameters for when the function finishes, which could be crucial in determining when the employer’s responsibility to control its employees finishes.
  • If you employ staff under 18, the law with respect to the service of alcohol to minors must be respected and adhered to.
  • Provide your staff with options or advice as to how they might find their way home safely.

But, above all, enjoy the company of your colleagues, celebrate the year and be safe.

Charles Beresford

5 December 2016