Christmas party season is upon us and whilst staff plan their perfect outfits and travel arrangements, HR teams and management are becoming more aware of their responsibilities as a business and implications following a dreaded mishap.
In 2016 the High Court ruled that a recruitment company was liable for the actions of its Managing Director, who punched an employee at a party and left him brain damaged. Since then, employers’ attitudes have changed towards social functions for employees, and in particular the traditional Christmas party.
Whilst not all Christmas parties become this out of hand, People Management recently reported that employers are rethinking their approach to Christmas festivities this year, as they are so fearful of reputational and legal ramifications. They are clearly concerned about potentially offensive or discriminatory conduct taking place under their watch.
Minimising the risk
A pattern has emerged this year where employers are scaling back their plans and/or taking measures to safeguard staff.
International accountancy firm BDO, has introduced a “Sober Chaperone Scheme” for its Christmas parties in a bid to safeguard their staff. Each department has to nominate two individuals, who agree to refrain from overindulging to ensure their colleagues behave responsibly in an “emergency situation” and get home safely at the end of the night.
Other large businesses are encouraging employees to organise events at lunchtime, or are substituting the traditional Christmas party for team building events such as go-karting and indoor golf, when less alcohol is likely to be consumed.
It is apparent employers are increasingly more concerned about the wellbeing of their staff rather than providing an alcohol-based event.
Professor Cary Cooper, the President of the CIPD, stated “A lot of employers are introducing things like this for certain people who are most vulnerable.
It is not just ensuring no-one consumes too much alcohol, but about (safeguarding) people who have a disability or those who could be sensitive to what people might say to them in a more alcohol inflamed situation. Employers worry what happens when people have too much to drink, and say and do inappropriate things, which is a real danger.”
Moderation is key
It must be stressed that employers do not need to overact and issues can be avoided with clear communication.
Sarah Picker, Senior Lecturer in Health & Safety at the University of Sunderland, stated, “To make events alcohol free is imposing restrictions and treating people like children. The best way to do it is to tell people to please not over-consume. We all know that having rough guidelines for employees up front might be helpful.”
Professional services giant, KPMG, have followed this idea and introduced new guidelines about employee conduct during the Christmas season.
Christmas is still there to be enjoyed by all, but a more balanced and measured approach this year will be sensible.
If you require guidance regarding how best to plan your workplace functions for the festive season, or have queries in relation to any other aspect of employment or HR law, please contact Jonathan Moreland, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Sharney Randhawa, by email at email@example.com, or call us on 0191 3842441.