December has arrived again and we are all busy planning and getting into the Christmas spirit and that much anticipated work get together is just around the corner.
Although most employers are aware that they can be held responsible for the conduct of their employees during working hours, vicarious liability can mean that an employer is responsible for employees’ actions outside of work as well.
These actions can include bullying and harassment, violent or discriminatory acts or even libel. The key question of any case of vicarious liability is whether the employee was acting in a personal capacity, or in the course of their employment.
Unfortunately as an employer you will never be able to fully remove the risk of unacceptable behaviour caused by alcohol consumption and therefore consideration should be given to how such issues will be dealt with, if and when they do arise.
It is always a good idea to make sure that policies are up to date and that employees are reminded about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour before the parties begin;
It is important to be inclusive when planning to make sure that you do not inadvertently discriminate against any particular guests.
For example, those who have particular dietary requirements for religious or cultural reasons, people who do not drink and employees that are under 18 or those with disabilities who may have difficulty accessing venues.
Do not forget about your employees that are absent from the business
i.e. on Maternity, Paternity or Parental leave and include agency workers and employees on a fixed term contract.
Do not make it compulsory for all staff to attend the Christmas party.
Christmas is a Christian holiday, so an employee may not wish to attend on religious grounds.
If the event is out of hours, some employees may have family responsibilities that may prevent them coming.
The Equality Act does not ban traditional customs under its provisions for religious discrimination. Christmas decorations such as tinsel, lights and trees are not inherently religious, therefore they should not cause offence to people that follow other religions.
Consider how your employees will get home after the party.
Remind staff not to drink and drive and to make suitable arrangements to get home if they want to drink. You could consider organising transport to pick up and take people home.
Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available..
..to help prevent over indulging as well as for those who do not drink.
If your party takes place on a work night..
..it should be made clearto employees what your expectations are regarding absence the next day – but do not expect too much in terms of productivity from those who do turn up for work.
It should be made absolutely clear on the extent to which you will be lenient about employees coming to work late and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken.
You must be consistent here, if you have a history of festive tolerance, particularly where alcohol consumption at lunchtime is concerned, this could be used as evidence that disciplinary action against an individual is unfair.