The safest way to avoid any unwanted Christmas shenanigans is, of course, to simply not organise any form of party. In a time of economic uncertainty and red tape, many employers have done away with the annual Christmas ‘do'.
However, the benefits of an annual get-together should not be ignored; they encourage communication, motivate staff and reward them at a time when other perks, such as pay rises and bonuses, just aren't an option for small businesses. Provided you take a common sense approach and appropriate safeguards are in place, there is no reason why employees and employers can't have a good time.
Remember that we live in a multi-faith society and not all employees will want to be involved in Christmas festivities, or celebrations where lots of alcohol will be consumed. Don't force staff to attend the Christmas party; they may have faith and personal reasons why they do not wish to attend.
You could also consider alternative party themes so that non-drinkers do not feel excluded.
Be aware of discrimination
Where staff are forced to take holiday time at Christmas, be aware that employees of other faiths and beliefs may want to take time out for their own activities. Don't rota staff on the Christmas shifts just because they do not belong to a faith or belief that recognises Christmas.
Talk to your staff about rotas and make sure that, wherever possible, you use volunteers rather than co-opting people in.
Remember health and safety
If you're decorating the office, use a stepladder – not a chair – and don't cover up emergency exit or other important signs with tinsel. Also remember that your insurance may not cover damage caused by untested electrical equipment, so don't leave those tree lights on overnight!
Keep it clean
Ensure that your party games and present-giving celebrations are done in a tasteful manner. Santa should not ask any member of staff to sit on his or her knee, unless you fancy a harassment claim coming your way.
Similarly, gifts of underwear and sex toys often spark employee complaints, so remind people to keep it appropriate. And miss out the mistletoe; a survey by ContractorUK found that while 80% of women would laugh off a pass made by a male co-worker, boss or client, 13% wouldn't.
Don't let alcohol flow too freely
Alcohol-fuelled punch-ups and threatening behaviour top the list of reasons for disciplinary action following the staff Christmas party, according to a poll by the CIPD. Take precautions to ensure that your staff get home safely – and don't drink drive – by organising the party to end before public transport finishes, providing transport, or making sure everyone attending has the local taxi firm's phone number.
And remember, you should not allow or encourage under-18s to drink.
Let staff know what is expected of them
Inform staff in advance that as they will be at a work-sponsored event, existing discipline and grievance policies apply, even if the party is held away from their normal place of work. If there is an incident at a work function, employers may be held liable for the actions of staff towards each other if it can be established that the event was an extension of the workplace.
Make sure your anti-harassment policy is up to date
Having clear equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies in place, which are communicated to all employees, can help you protect your business if a member of staff acts inappropriately. This should make it clear that any employee harassing another is acting outside the course of their employment and is aware of the disciplinary consequences of doing so.
Treat all complaints with sensitivity, confidentiality and seriousness. And remember, harassment applies to both men and women.
Draw up a workplace relationship policy
The Christmas party is often where office romances start, but relationships in the workplace can cause problems later on, so it helps to have a policy in place that addresses any problems that could arise from relationships at work developing.
Watch out for drugs
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, it is an offence for an employer to knowingly permit or even to ignore the use of any controlled drugs taking place on their premises.
Christmas is a great time to let your hair down and socialise with your staff, but be careful not to share anything you wouldn't in the office, such as confidential information or personal opinions of other employees. The morning after If the party takes place when some or all attendees will need to work the next day, make sure people know beforehand what is expected of them and that that disciplinary action could be taken if they fail to turn up for work because of over-indulging. It's important to lead by example too.
A survey by insurers Aviva found that senior managers are in fact 67% more likely to call in sick the day after a Christmas party than other members of staff.
To find out how we can help your business avoid the pitfalls of employment law, call us now on 0845 130 1722. If you've decided not to have a party this year, here are some more ideas to reward staff on a budget.