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An HR Guide to the Christmas Party

An HR Guide to the Christmas Party (no bah humbug here….)

The abstinence of Christmas 2020 is a long-forgotten memory now, and Christmas parties are back in full swing. Opposite our house the 50,000 free range turkeys we’ve been watching grow since July, have gone….and the fields are eerily quiet.

On my way to a speaking engagement last week, I dropped in to see a client, and shared a coffee with their HR Director. She told me that Christmas had been ‘banned’ by the previous HR team, and she was helping organise the first Christmas party in 4 years. Previously the Company’s HR department had been worried that people might be, and I quote “offended by references to Christmas”.

Honestly, what utter tosh. HR, good HR anyway, has many hats, but all too often HR is regarded (in this case very accurately) as the joy police, looking for reasons not to do things rather than ways to make things happen.

For the record, if it needs to be said, there is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas. Most do this non religiously anyway, but that isn’t the point. Good employers will have an understanding and an empathy with all the key religious events across the religious spectrum, and will help staff celebrate these and join in – you don’t have to be religious to enjoy Christmas, or Diwali for that matter.

Returning to the topic, let’s remind ourselves of some of the key practicalities around the Christmas party.

Where to hold the Christmas party

It’s often best to restrict office parties to licensed premises, avoiding licensing or insurance issues, though some of our clients do provide bar etc. facilities in their offices – we’ve seen an increase in that since Covid.

Remember though that the hospitality industry needs our support, and Christmas is an opportunity for them, making up for the bleak weeks on either side of the festive season.

Catering for non-drinkers & dietary requirements

Not everybody drinks like I used to….all right, still do. Gen Z’s in particular drink less, and of course some may not drink for religious reasons – I remember asking our first in-house recruiter Nida Atif why she thought that her religion rejected alcohol – she told me it was probably because alcohol changes people and makes them act differently…..fair point, that.

So, remember to provide soft drinks for non-drinkers – of course that won’t be a problem in a pub or restaurant.

If your party involves a  laying on food, take account of the requirements of staff, some of whom may not be able to eat some foods for religious, allergy or other reasons. Make sure the venue knows about any dietary requirement in advance and, ideally, keep a record of information sent.

Getting people home safely after the Christmas party and avoiding drink driving

Think also about how easy it is for people to get home by public transport – consider laying on taxis to get staff home and to avoid the possibility of drink driving and to ensure that more vulnerable employees (often the younger ones) are taken safely home

Harassment and sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is nearly always a male on female thing, and nearly always a senior older male on an impressionable younger female – you can read more about it in our earlier article here. The risk of this type of sexual harassment occurring when alcohol is added to the mix is increased manyfold.

The single best way of preventing occurrences of sexual (or other) harassment is to raise awareness of it by training staff. A couple of hours of training, refreshed annually, is often enough, and new staff should be trained as they join.  myHRdept provides sessions – contact us for more details: enquiries@myhrdept.co.uk or 01628 820515).

If you don’t have time to organise annual training prior to the staff do, you should consider pre-briefing party attendees. I know it doesn’t sound massively festive…but a stitch in time and all that….. circulating this article and checking everyone’s read it will help.

Careful managers will also want to keep an eye on the proceedings themselves – making sure the more vulnerable employees (usually younger females) are not receiving unwanted attention from others, and checking they’re ok if there appears any cause for concern.

What if staff misbehave at the Christmas party?

Owners & managers owe staff a duty of care, and if we see behaviour that is potentially unwelcome to others, or a violation of Company policies, we have a duty to act. This applies whether or not the party is held in work time or in work premises.

myHRdept & JCHR clients will have an alcohol at work policy in their staff handbook – this and other policies make clear that social events outside of work and outside of work hours are to be treated as if they took place at work and in work hours. It’s helpful to remind people about this and about these policies, but even if you don’t (or don’t have them) it is still a fact that employers can be vicariously liable for the actions of employees who act ‘in the course of their employment’…. and bad behaviour at staff parties has often been judged to be ‘in the course of employment’.

This means that seeing an employee committing wrongdoing, and not doing anything about, it is very likely to land the employer on the wrong end of a legal ruling.  For that reason, and because the general duty to care for employees doesn’t take a night off for the party, you should be prepared to put a stop to unacceptable behaviour.

Best to ensure at least one senior person remains ‘in control’ to deal informally and gently with any potential issues before they arise. Without wishing to be a party pooper, if you think this is a risk in your organisation, it’s worth gently reminding employees in advance of works social events that proper standards of behaviour must continue to apply, as will the normal consequences for breaches of conduct.

What does ‘a risk in your organisation mean’? Most sexual harassment is committed by older more senior males on younger junior females – if your organisation’s demographic contains that mix, the risk is there.

Investigating allegations of bad behaviour at staff parties

After the event, bad behaviour at the office party should normally be dealt with as potential misconduct, and should be investigated thoroughly. Investigating managers should take statements from those involved in the alleged incident, and from witnesses.

Additional information may be gleaned from CCTV etc. It takes experience to conduct a decent investigation, and if you don’t have that, or the time to do it, you might ask an outside HR organisation like myHRdept to do this for you.

HR Support from myHRdept

If you need help updating your HR policies, myHRdept’s HR support services are ideal. Included within all of our HR outsourced support packages is a bank of support hours to help manage staff issues. In most cases client HR support hours banks are not impacted by time spent updating handbooks, employment contracts, or introducing new policies. We can also manage investigations and provide training to help support your due diligence defence and to reduce the risk of breaches of important policies.

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at enquiries@myhrdept.co.uk to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.

Homepage: www.myhrdept.co.uk

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