• Christmas is the time for fun and festive cheer which is usually coupled with the long awaited staff Christmas party. The preparations will be in full swing for the entertainment, employees will be dusting off their cameras beforehand, eagerly awaiting their Christmas bonus and the three bank holidays which fall at this time of year.

    However, the festive season brings with it the opportunity for plenty of potential incidents that employers should bear in mind so they can take steps to minimise the risk of any unsavoury claims after the festive season draws to a close and the January blues kick in. Here are our top tips to avoid problems lurking under the mistletoe.

    Things to consider:

    Banter
    Alcohol and next day absences
    Christmas bonuses
    Entertainment
    Reminders about social media
    Secret Santa

    Banter

    Employers need to bear in mind that they will be liable for the actions of their employees. This will include jokes of a sexist or racist nature, to name but a few. Harassment claims can arise from these jokes and employees need to be reminded that offensive jokes will not be accepted at the party any more than they would be accepted at the office. Therefore, it is a good idea to remind your employees that there is a fine line between relaxed conversations and overstepping the mark.

    Alcohol and next day absences

    Limiting the amount of free alcohol provided at a Christmas party can reduce the chances of employees getting overly merry. Employees failing to show up for work the day after the Christmas party due to the influence of alcohol is not unusual. However, normal disciplinary rules should apply for unauthorised absences.

    Christmas bonuses

    Employers may want to reward their employees with a goodwill gesture in the form of a bonus or gift at Christmas. When the contract of employment is silent on bonuses but there has been a practice of giving a bonus or gift over a period of time, the employee could argue that the bonus is an implied term of their contract. Employers should ensure contracts of employment highlight the discretionary nature of the bonus and confirm there is no contractual entitlement to receive one.

    Entertainment

    It is usual for an employer to provide some form of entertainment at the Christmas party but what happens when you hire an entertainer who tells racist or offensive jokes? Just because the entertainer is a third party does not mean an employer could not be liable for harassment. You have a duty to protect your employees against unwanted conduct and this includes jokes they may find offensive. Therefore, you need to pick your entertainer with care.

    Reminders about social media

    Employers should have a social media policy in place especially with the increase in social media platforms. It can be tempting for an employee to upload photos of other colleagues looking a little worse for wear at the Christmas party. However, the problem with this is that, the photo could embarrass employees as well as damage the reputation of the employee and the company. It is therefore important to remind employees of the social media policy in place and the likely consequences for inappropriate use of social media.

    Secret Santa

    One thing employees struggle with around Christmas is what to buy their Secret Santa recipient, especially if they do not know them well. Employees sometimes think that Secret Santa provides them with anonymity so they can give offensive or risqué gifts but the recipient may not see the funny side. Employers should make sure employees know what is expected of them and that any inappropriate gift could result in disciplinary action. Employees should also be reminded that whether something is offensive is judged by what the recipient (acting reasonably in their shoes) thinks, not what others think.

    Christmas can occasionally cause problems for employers but we hope yours will be incident free. The easiest way to avoid any problems is to review your policies and send a gentle reminder to your employees in advance of the Christmas party. If you need any further advice about your policies or any incidents arising as a result of the festive season, please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our employment team.

    Can we help?

    Take a look at our Employment Advice page for useful information, resources, guidance, details of our team and how we may be able to help you

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