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Forum urges small firms to avoid Christmas party pitfalls

With the countdown to Christmas well under way, a national business organisation is urging employers to avoid the potential pitfalls of the festive season.

The Forum of Private Business is warning business owners to be aware of the seasonal dangers that could potentially leave then with a nasty financial hangover long after the decorations have been taken down.

The festive period presents a number of issues, ranging from health and safety issues to staffing rotas, which can leave employers open to litigation or staff disputes. But as the Forum's business adviser, Joanne Eccles explains: "With their mix of drink, high spirits and merriment, Christmas parties are still the number one source of potential problems."

In order to comply with workplace legislation, the Forum is advising business owners to:

- Avoid pressurising staff to attend Christmas parties. Some staff may not want to attend due to factors such as faith or abstinence from drink

- Let staff attending parties know in advance what acceptable standards of behaviour are expected of them. Make it clear that your usual disciplinary policies apply, even if the party is being held away from the workplace. 
 
- Watch out for drug use! Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is an offence for an employer to permit or even ignore drug use on their premises. Drug use in the workplace may also constitute a breach of health and safety regulations. 
 
- Make it clear to staff if they are expected to turn up for work as normal the following day, hangover or not. Also don't forget to by example – research suggests that senior managers are more likely to call in sick the day after a Christmas party than junior staff members. 
 
- Keep it clean and don't let the tipple flow too freely. Saucy gifts and games could easily lead down the dangerous path to a tribunal, while too much alcohol could spark arguments and fights, leaving employers dealing with tricky disciplinary issues. 
 
- Business owners should also remember to act professionally when socialising with staff and not let anything slip which they wouldn't do in the office, such as personal opinions of other employees.

However, putting on a Christmas party does have an upside for employers. Up to £150 per head of the cost of holding the party is an allowable tax deduction and VAT can also be recovered on staff entertaining expenditure.

Joanne continues: "No-one wants to put a dampener on the festive spirit and Christmas parties are great for boosting workplace morale and allowing staff to let their hair down. But business owners do need to take some important precautions if they want to guard against potential litigation.

"Most of the regulations which govern the normal working day also extend to the Christmas party, wherever it might be held, so employers need to ensure they're not leaving themselves open to claims, complaints and time-consuming employee disputes." 
 
The Forum offers small firms free advice on Christmas parties, and winter weather advice via its website www.fpb.org.

Advice is available under the ‘Hot tips' section of the site, which can be viewed both by Forum members and non-members.

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