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An employers guide to avoiding Christmas party hangovers

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While the highlight of the year for many, Christmas parties can be a potential minefield for employers. As many as 90% of employers have had to deal with an employment problem stemming from a Christmas party, and 10% of employees know someone who has faced disciplinary proceedings or dismissal as a result of fall-out from one.

In addition, more than one in ten workers who have attended a work Christmas party admit to embarrassing themselves in front of their boss, one in 11 workers has thrown up in public and one in 12 has revealed something embarrassing about themselves to a colleague.  

Fortunately, this practical guide should go some way to helping you avoid a Christmas party hangover.

  • Party politics - Even if the party is held outside normal working hours and away from work premises it is still viewed as ‘being at work’. This means as an employer you may be liable for the acts of your employees during the party, and this extends to acts of harassment, discrimination, and bullying. You also have a duty of care to your employees to ensure their health and safety when attending.  Consider issuing written communication to employees in advance of the event, making it clear that unacceptable behaviour will be treated in the same way as if it happened during normal working hours.  Warn staff that excessive alcohol consumption, discrimination, fighting, and harassment will not be tolerated and could result in disciplinary action. Refer to your employment contracts and Policies and Procedures. As good practice, you may also want to think about putting a policy in place on workplace social events to cover your duty of care for employees under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Access all areas - Ensure the party is inclusive to avoid any allegations of discrimination. Invite all employees, even those on maternity, paternity or sick leave, and don’t make attendance compulsory. The premises of the party have to be suitable for everyone, comply with health and safety regulations and have suitable access for disabled staff. Should any section of the workforce be seen to be favoured or discriminated against in this way, employers could find themselves under question under the Equality Act
  • Socialising the socialising - Within seconds of the party starting the photos will start to appear on social media. Inappropriate images and comments may follow. This could damage the business’ reputation and damage trust between colleagues or even result in disciplinary and grievance issues if the subject of the photo takes offence. Make sure your employees know exactly what your rules are regarding the use of social media in relation to work and work related events.
  • Maintaining moderation While a free bar will be welcomed by employees, it could potentially encourage excessive alcohol intake. You may therefore want to consider restricting the amount of free alcohol available and should be prepared to ask individuals to take it easy if they appear the worse for wear. Keep an eye out too for any younger members of staff – employers cannot allow under-18s to drink. Finally, be respectful of employees who do not drink, they shouldn’t feel harassed to ‘get in the Christmas spirit’. Also, as alcohol can loosen tongues, managers should avoid conversations about performance, promotion, salary or career prospects; a promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise - even if the employer cannot remember the conversation.
  • Homeward bound Consider how your employees will get home after the party. Issue advice in advance about not drinking and driving - an employer may still be responsible for its employee driving home from an office party. Think also about providing transport home or ending the event before public transport stops. At the very least provide phone numbers for local registered cab companies and suggest employees check the time of their last train home.
  • The morning after Warn employees of the consequences of next day lateness, non-attendance or arriving under the influence. Ensure that all staff know the extent to which you will be lenient about coming to work late and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken. Also, monitor behaviour the next day to make sure no one arrives at work drunk, especially if using machinery. Any aftermath of an office party must be dealt with fairly, in line with the company disciplinary procedure. A key consideration is consistency. Consider the level of sanction that has been imposed on other employees in the company in similar circumstances before. Also, as it’s not uncommon for office romances to blossom at the Christmas party, be clear on what your stance is on office relationships.
  • Getting into the Christmas spirit Finally, don’t become the new Scrooge. The Christmas party should be a time to celebrate the successes of the year and enjoy spending time with colleagues outside of the office. They boost morale, making employees feel valued and increase loyalty in the business. Provided you prepare effectively, everyone will have a Merry Christmas.

Kim Hayton FCIPD is HR Director for FDR Law. If you require any further advice on the Christmas party from an employment law perspective, or indeed any employment law matter, please get in touch with FDR HR on  01925 230000