Before we say goodbye to the annus horribilus of 2020, many of us will be looking forward to attending our annual festive season gathering and thanking everything that we aren’t still limited to gatherings of ’10 or fewer people’.

We are regularly asked for advice in the run up to the festive season. We are often approached in the final work days of December or in January when things have not quite gone as anticipated.

Here are some common questions we are asked:

As an employer, what do I need to do to avoid any mishaps?

  • Set out expectations ahead of the event. This is really important.  Remind people that whilst it may be a celebration, they are still ‘at work’ and that as an employer, you do not sanction any ‘after parties’.  A reminder of policies and codes of conduct, is usually a good idea.
  • Issue advice in advance of an event about not drinking and driving and encourage staff to think beforehand about how they will get home. Suggest to staff that they have Ola, Zoomy or Uber downloaded and set up on their phones.
  • A free bar throughout the event will encourage excessive alcohol intake. It is advisable to limit the supply of free alcohol, and ensure a plentiful supply of low-alcohol alternatives, water and soft drinks.
  • Always serve food alongside alcohol.
  • It is good practice for employers to designate responsibility for supervising work-related social events to specific managers. They should be provided with guidelines on dealing with drunk or disorderly employees. The supervisors should be advised that they themselves are required to stay sober.

Are employers liable for incidents at work parties?

Yes, they can be. Employers have a legal duty to make sure employees are safe at work and this extends to work events. If an employer plans an event away from the usual place of work, they are legally responsible for ensuring the event is safe and for minimising risks of hazards and dangers.

Staff should be aware of the expected standards of behaviour to help avoid claims for:

  • Harm arising from the negligent conduct of other employees
  • General harm under health and safety legislation
  • Discriminatory acts committed by the employer or their employees.

This is all because social events organised by an employer are an ‘extension’ of the workplace even if they fall outside normal location and hours.

Is an official work party considered as being ‘at work’?

Yes it can be, an official and organised work party is an extension of the workplace and all the usual rules apply. Punching your manager may seem like a good idea at the time however it is no more acceptable at the Christmas party than it would be in the office on Monday morning.

What about ‘after parties’?

Employers should always distance themselves from unofficial after-parties and make it clear that if colleagues decide to move on to other venues or continue after the official event ends, this is not endorsed by the employer.

Can you hold disciplinary proceedings/dismiss for behaviour at a work function?

If a Company can be held liable for injuries and actions of its employees at a Christmas party then it is only right that it can also initiate disciplinary proceeding up to dismissal..

The employer must be careful to treat any process exactly the same as they would if the behaviour had been committed during work hours.

Contact us if you need advice or support concerning the matters raised in this article.