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Bad behaviour at the staff party. Ho Ho Ho!

Bad behaviour at the staff party. Ho Ho Ho!  

It may not seem like it, but it is the season to be jolly. The trouble is that for employers at least, the Christmas party comes with worries that someone, somewhere….and there’s always one….is going to cause a problem through bad behaviour, spoiling an otherwise enjoyable event.

I’ve investigated some Christmas party events in my time, from drunken brawls to cars being turned onto their roofs and set alight by a group of aggrieved, very drunk, and surprisingly strong, employees (who, sober, made some of the nicest cakes I’ve ever eaten). I’ve seen tears and tantrums and I’ve investigated bad behaviour in staff parties with some very serious allegations, including rape. I should add of course that I’ve also seen (and hosted) some enjoyable events where nothing bad has happened, thankfully, these have been more common than the other sort.

The festive season carries its own challenges for employers, and while in most cases, we can relax and enjoy ourselves, there is an increased risk of bad behaviour. Some of that risk can be reduced with a bit of planning and forethought.

Where to hold the party, getting staff home…. and not forgetting the non-drinkers and the dietary restricted

Employee drunkenness aside, it is often best to restrict office parties to licensed premises, avoiding licensing or insurance issues. Remember to provide soft drinks for non-drinkers and if 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.

Think also about how easy it is for people to get home by public transport – consider laying on transport 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.

The risk of 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: 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 staff parties?

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 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.

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 to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.


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