Companies need to consider new risks when hosting virtual Christmas parties, while being aware that normal employment hazards, such as harassment and bullying, can still happen online.
The warning comes from legal protection and assistance specialist ARAG and identifies three areas of risk that employers should look at, before any virtual staff party kicks off.
- Security risks – sharing access with third-party suppliers, such as entertainers, adds to the risk of “zoom-bombing”, unauthorised recording or a future security breach
- Employee risks – while a fight at the Christmas party may be unlikely now, the perennial hazards of staff getting drunk, behaving inappropriately or harassing a colleague remain
- Morale risks – whether furloughed or exhausted by extra work, staff are unlikely to appreciate lavish spending if colleagues are facing redundancy
While many businesses are planning virtual Christmas parties as a much-needed morale boost for beleaguered staff, ARAG is warning that plans could backfire if not carefully thought through.
“For many people, the Christmas party is more important than ever this year.” comments ARAG’s Head of Claims, Chris Millward. “Some organisations have barely survived the lockdowns, while others have been incredibly busy, often with fewer staff.
“First, they need to be confident in the technology, to ensure that nobody gets left out, but also that nobody from outside the company gets access to anything they shouldn’t, shares access within anyone else or opens up any other security risks.
“Many aspects of the employment law around online working are untested, but employers do have a duty of care to protect staff from hazards at work, which could include the extremely graphic imagery that has been displayed in some notorious zoom-bombing incidents.
“Bosses also need to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas or even enjoys a party, so offering some alternative way for teams to celebrate may be appropriate.
“If companies are going to hold an online event, we have a simple 4-point plan to help avoid problems, and suggest they include ABBA in their party planning to avoid a new year employment hangover.”
Advise staff that normal workplace rules of conduct and behaviour still apply, and will have to be enforced.
Brief managers and supervisors to set a good example and give them the tools to head off problematic situations before they get out of hand.
Block anyone who may be behaving inappropriately
Address any incidents or allegations as soon after the event as possible, and fairly according to normal procedures and policies
“Party organisers need to be comfortable with the technology,” continues Chris. “First, to make sure everyone is invited and can access the event, but also to prevent unauthorised recording, keep out cyber-gatecrashers and block anyone who starts behaving badly.
“It’s one thing for staff to get a little tipsy at the company party, but quite another if somebody starts being abusive or harassing another member of staff or anyone else who may be attending the event.”
Christmas falls at a particularly difficult time in employment relations, this year. ARAG recently highlighted the growing backlog in employment tribunal claims that looks set to increase further in 2021, as the growing wave of redundancies will inevitably lead to more claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination, unfair selection for redundancy and redundancy pay.