The etiquette of Christmas parties from an HR perspective

Many workplaces will now be holding their annual Christmas party - a time for staff to let loose and celebrate the festive period

When it comes to workplace parties, how involved should management and HR be when it comes to ensuring good conduct is met and no professional boundaries are compromised? Here are just a few of the things the HR team should know about the festive party season and how employees can be protected this Christmas.

Understand that the party is a work matter

Some employees – and management – might be under the impression that once they have clocked off, they cannot be held accountable for their actions. In the case of work parties or social events, this is not the case.

The Equality Act 2010 states that employers are liable for acts of victimisation, harassment and discrimination carried out during the course of employment unless they took steps to prevent such acts. Any incidents that take place during a party that has been organised by a business for its employees is likely to be classed as ‘during the course of employment’ and therefore makes employers liable.

How can employers protect themselves?

Ultimately no employer can be responsible for the actions of all their staff; however, to protect themselves and show that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent any inappropriate acts, employers should consider releasing a statement in the run-up to the festive period reminding staff about factors such as the dangers of alcohol and the type of behaviours that could be classed as misconduct. Some employers will even have a designated policy on workplace social events.

This may sound excessive; however, in the event of any accusations of harassment, discrimination or victimisation, it can really help their cause and show that they have at least tried to warn staff about what is expected from them.

Can staff be disciplined following a work party?

If their behaviour is deemed to go against good conduct and impacts their working situation, staff can be disciplined; for example, there have been cases of staff being dismissed following fights at work parties. In cases such as these – where multiple employees are involved in the same incident – it is important that they are all treated equally. Trying to establish who is at fault is tricky and can lead to tribunal cases if one employee feels that they have been treated unfairly and used as a scapegoat.

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