Home / The Rix & Kay Blog / Guidance and Tips on minimising the risks of a Work Christmas Party
Barney Bose

Trainee Solicitor - East Sussex (Uckfield)

12th December 2023

Guidance and Tips on minimising the risks of a Work Christmas Party

Christmas work parties are a great way to foster good spirits, to reward staff, and celebrate the end of the year. Some employers however, may be hesitant to hold a Christmas party because problems could potentially arise. It is not unheard of for staff to face disciplinary action as a result of their poor conduct at a Christmas party, with potentially serious disciplinary consequences arising as a result.

In addition to this, employers could be held liable for the actions of their staff at social events, just as they would be liable for their staff in the normal course of work. A staff party is considered to be within the ‘scope’ of work. This liability (which is known as “vicarious liability”) can prove to be very serious and costly for employers.

A Recent Case

In a Northern Irish Tribunal decision this year, Lyons v Starplan Furniture Limited & Others, an employee was sexually harassed by a colleague during a company Christmas party and subsequently brought a claim for sexual harassment (amongst other claims), against their employer. The Tribunal held that the employer was liable for their employee’s discriminatory harassment. The employer was ordered to pay the sum of approximately £18,000.00 to the employee.

Observations of the Tribunal

In the above case, the Tribunal noted that the employer did not take reasonable steps to prevent acts of sexual harassment from occurring. The Tribunal also noted that there was a failure from the company’s management to provide any guidance to staff regarding the consumption of alcohol or the standards of behaviour expected of them. This was made worse by the fact that a manager was providing the alcohol to the employees and that the most senior person at the company was perceived to be drunk.

Tips and Suggestions

This case demonstrates that an employer should take reasonable steps to prevent unacceptable behaviour occurring at a Christmas party or other social events.

On top of that, a new law concerning a duty to take steps to prevent sexual harassment at work ‘The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act) Act‘ will come into force in October 2024.

In advance of the Party

With the above in mind, and as part of an employer’s preparation for the new law, employers should consider including a ‘Conduct while on Company business’ policy in their Staff Handbook, setting out acceptable standards of conduct at office parties as well as at Company organised social events.

It is also a good idea to remind staff in advance of any social event, of the standards of acceptable behaviour at the event and refer to all relevant staff policies. Further, remind employees that certain conduct will be deemed a breach of their employment obligations and that any such breach will lead to disciplinary action and in extreme cases, dismissal could follow.

During the Party

An employer should ensure that for any such event, a senior member of staff has responsibility for supervising and overseeing the event.

In terms of practical steps, employers should also ensure that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks available to everyone and possibly cap the level of free or discounted drinks. In order to ensure that employees get home safely, employers should make sure that staff do not drink and drive and could provide contact numbers of local taxis and encourage staff to use them or perhaps even arrange a minibus for transporting staff.

After the Party

If employers implement a Policy ‘Conduct while on Company Business’, it could include a communication ‘avenue’ for employees to ‘speak up’ about anything that they may need to raise with management about a colleague’s conduct at a company social event.

In any event, if an employee raises a complaint or reports an issue regarding something that occurred at a Christmas party, or any other work event, an employer should ensure that the matter is investigated promptly and taken seriously. If, after investigation, any disciplinary process becomes necessary, employers should ensure that they have a disciplinary policy in place and that this is followed.

Following these tips will assist an employer in ensuring that their Christmas party does not become a mistletoe minefield and should minimise the risks involved with holding a Christmas party or social event. It will also help to ensure that a great time is had by all.

Finally, don’t forget to wish everyone a merry festive season!

Contact us

If you would like further information or advice on Christmas parties, staff policies, or employment law matters in general, please contact Barney Bose at barneybose@rixandkay.co.uk and the Employment Team at Rix & Kay by Telephone at 01825 761555.