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Tips for Employers - Seasonal Pitfalls and how to avoid them

Tips for Employers - Seasonal Pitfalls and how to avoid them

By: B.Whelan

Tags: Employment, Christmas

It’s that time of year again – workers up and down the country are dusting off their Christmas Jumpers and festive ties, and looking out the glad-rags, ready for the Annual Office Christmas Party.
As an employer, you want to make the event fun for your staff, but you also want to avoid any problems. Make sure you are aware of the potential legal pitfalls around Christmas Parties and other Events.
Do feel free to decorate your office or premises. Most Christmas decorations are secular in nature so there are unlikely to be issues with religious discrimination. From a Health and Safety perspective,  there is no reason not to have decorations but you should ensure that these are not places in such a way that they create a tripping or other hazard, and bear in mind that insurance may not cover damage from untested electrical items, so do turn the Christmas tree lights off overnight or when unattended!
Don’t put pressure on staff to attend a party if they do not wish to attend for religious reasons, or put   pressure on any staff to attend parties which take place outside their normal working hours. Staff may have family or caring responsibilities which make attending difficult. While few Christmas parties have any overt religious overtones, remember that  not everyone will feel comfortable attending a Christmas themed party, and seeking to force someone to attend where they feel this conflicts with their religious beliefs could be seen as discriminatory.
Do Ensure that dietary needs are taken into account – it is a good idea to check any needs in advance to ensure that any staff whose religion has specific dietary rules can be accommodated . Providing appropriate options for any staff members who prefer to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet will also be appreciated!
Don’t forget that a Christmas Party or other work social event) is seen as an extension of the office, so set boundaries for acceptable behaviour, to ensure that staff are aware that normal policies around equality and diversity still apply. 
Do  consider the risks of staff drinking to excess. If you provide a bar, (particularly a free bar)  ensure that soft drinks (and, if possible, food) are also provided. Think about how staff will get home following the party and ensure that staff are aware ahead of time of the arrangements. 
For instance, consider whether the party will finish early enough for  public transport to be available, provide details of local taxi firms,. It is not the employers responsibility to provide transport back to employees’  homes, but you should ensure that your staff are aware of the arrangements in advance to allow them to plan ahead . 
Don’t discuss salaries or performance at a party. Partly because you should be having fun, but also because this could lead to breaches in confidentiality, or to an employee believing that they have been promised a raise or other benefits.  We have heard of an instance where a worker sought to claim constructive dismissal having alleged that he was promised a raise during a conversation with his boss t a Christmas Party. The claim did not succeed, as the alleged promise had been too vague to be enforceable, but it is better to avoid the risk.
Do consider having an Events Policy, or providing details of expectations ahead of time. Again, this may make you feel like a killjoy, but an advance reminder to staff that normal policies about non-discrimination, sexual harassment etc. still apply, and that misbehaviour at a works event could result in disciplinary procedures, can help to avoid problems.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t allow worry to stop you enjoying the season!


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