HR advice ahead of workplace Christmas party season! – HR Buddy
It’s time to plan your Christmas party! As workplaces across the country thank employees for their hard work over the year and indeed many may be planning a Christmas party for the first time in four years !!
A Christmas party can be a great team-building opportunity, especially this year when there is an opportunity to meet and socialise without restrictions for the first time in four years. Many may still be working hybrid or remotely, something that was not as common pre-covid. Also, after “normal” Christmas parties taking place were so cruelly taken away from us over the last few years, many are now looking forward to the opportunity this year. It’s also a welcome boost to our local economy and to the fabulous venues throughout the country and an opportunity for businesses to support other businesses.
However, from an employer’s perspective it is important to remember that an employer can be liable for the conduct of its employees at the party, even when it takes place somewhere other than in the workplace.
There is common mistakes and mishaps that can happen and leave an employer liable. Very often workplaces throw caution to the wind with these events but they should plan and consider, because whilst most workplace Christmas parties end up being great fun events, some things can go wrong and when they do, they can go badly wrong. So, employers need to plan properly.
What is the advice?
It is important that Employers ensure that employees understand the standard of conduct expected of them at these events, and that they are expected to observe the provisions of the Dignity at Work policy and anti-bullying and harassment policies at work-related events.
The actions of employees at a Christmas party may potentially damage working relationships, and reflect negatively on the business and lead to complaints or possible disciplinary actions.
Employers have a duty of care to all employees and should take reasonable steps to ensure that inappropriate conduct at these events does not arise.
Also, to ignore an incident due to the fact that it occurred at the Christmas party may also leave the employer liable.
What are some reasonable steps an employer can take to prevent an incident occurring?
Prior to holding the Christmas party, or any work-related event at any stage of the year, it should be made clear to employees that should there be an incident or a subsequent allegation, that these will be dealt with in exactly the same manner as if the incident had occurred during working hours.
Policies which should be brought to employee’s attention prior to the event should be:
- The Dignity at Work policy – To cover anti-bullying, harassment and sexual harassment;
- Email and social media policy – To cover employees tweeting, using Snapchat or sending pictures of a colleague via another medium;
- Attendance at work – To cover employees who contemplate not attending for work the day after the Christmas party;
- Grievance procedure and disciplinary procedure– If a case arises where there is misconduct, or an employee has a work-related grievance.
Employers need to keep in mind:
Attendance – If the Christmas party is out of hours, employees should be made aware of the fact that they are not obliged to attend.
Drink – Employers also need to be sensitive to employees who don’t drink alcohol, and should ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available.
It is often taught that alcohol is the number one reward from an employer at a Christmas party but for a lot of people it isn’t the case and employers may be better off using other reward strategies at the end of the year that might be more fitting like gifts or vouchers and so on. There has recently been an increase from €500 to €1,000 tax-free voucher payments that can be paid from an employer to an employee, this was announced by minister Paschal O’Donoghue in this week’s budget.
Inappropriate discussions – Christmas parties or work-related events are not the appropriate location for discussions in relation to employee performance, promotion, salary or career prospects. Words of encouragement and good intentions can be misinterpreted and may cause future issues. It is another common mistake that work related conversations that should remain in the workplace spill over to the social event.
Absence management – Where the Christmas party falls on a day when employees will be required to attend work the following day, employers should communicate to staff not to be at work under the influence of alcohol so that they do not endanger their own or another person’s health and safety at work.
Depending on the organisation and the work they do, it may be preferable to host the Christmas party at the weekend to ensure that employees do not need to attend work the day after the event.
Social Media – Not all publicity is good publicity! So, inform employees that they should not post pictures or comments to social media that would adversely affect the company’s reputation or the privacy of colleagues. They should also be aware of the consequences of a breach.
There are many instances historically whereby a very reputable business has had its name tarnished by videos from workplace Christmas parties going viral on social media or social chat groups and the Christmas party just ended up being the worst run PR event ever, so clearly setting out to employees, exactly what the standards are beforehand, is a wise move but often neglected.
When the proper planning is done for these events and the people are aware of what the standards of conduct and communication are at these events, there is much better chance that they end up being what they are meant to be – groups of co-workers who have worked together all year, socialising and having fun together in an environment outside of the usual workplace. They are usually a big morale booster which is what Christmas parties should be all about.
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