Hooray! Christmas looms ever larger on the horizon and we even have some (slightly premature) snow to put us in the mood. The annual season of eating, drinking, feeling sick and, yes, the Office Party, will soon be upon us. Employers could end up with a nasty hangover if they’re not careful.
I wonder if in these times of austerity there will be a temptation to party like it’s 1999? Maybe, and according to Personnel Today, employers could be placing themselves at risk by not putting in place a policy setting out what is acceptable behaviour at the Christmas party.
Apparently two-thirds of employers don’t have any such policy and 7% of those employers they did survey revealed that they had suffered a problem at the last Christmas bash. The risks to employers arise from claims by other employees offended by over-exuberant behaviour, but also from discrimination, harassment and bullying.
For a useful article on how to draft a “Party Policy” have a read of this.
We usually see one or two clients each year who have got into trouble having over-indulged too much. What employers and employees must remember is that the office party is still a work event and work rules (and employment laws apply).
At the time of the last World Cup I wrote about the potential risk of allowing staff to watch football matches, which might have the effect of excluding those employees (probably mainly women) who weren’t interested, thus leading to resentment. You might think that an office party would suit everyone, but almost inevitably it will involve alcohol and some people, for example, Muslims might feel excluded if the only option is a trip to the local pub where everyone else gets plastered.
More fundamentally, religious minorities might object to the office celebrating Christmas but not their particular religious festivals.
There is merit in having a behaviour policy because then everyone knows where they stand and provided the policy is implemented consistently it makes it hard for any one person to say they have been treated unfairly. Having said that, I do slightly struggle with the idea of the employer having to set out basic rules of social engagement to its staff, and it risks treating them like children and being viewed like, heaven forbid, a Jobsworth!