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Tuesday 28 February 2017

What is acceptable conduct at the office Christmas party?

Mon, 15 Dec 2014 | By Gareth Matthews, employment law solicitor at MLP Law
Gareth Matthews

Everyone is getting into the Christmas spirit and that much anticipated office get-together is just around the corner – so how do you make sure it all goes off without a hitch? 

It is important to make employees aware of the types of conduct that are considered inappropriate, and look at the steps that companies can take to minimise the risk of an Employment Tribunal claim.

Understandably, nobody wants to risk being seen as Scrooge by discussing disciplinary issues before anyone has even had as much as a mince pie. However, it is vital that companies make it clear to employees, both new and old, what is expected of them over the festive period. 

Harassment and discrimination

Although most companies are aware that they can be held responsible for the conduct of their employees during working hours, many may not realise that this can extend to a work party – even if this takes place away from the office.

So how can a company protect itself against this? The first stage would be to take all reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate behaviour from happening, such as having equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies in place which make clear the types of conduct that are considered unacceptable. And it is important to make sure that employees are aware of these policies.

Arrangements for Christmas parties should also not inadvertently discriminate against any particular guests, such as those who have particular dietary requirements for religious or cultural reasons, people who do not drink, or people with disabilities who may have difficulty accessing venues. 

Disciplinary and grievances

The important thing for a company to realise is that it will never be able to fully remove the risk of unacceptable behaviour caused by increased alcohol consumption and therefore some consideration should also be given to how such issues will be dealt with, if and when they do arise.

The key point here is that any potential misconduct should be investigated thoroughly and any disciplinary process which follows should be held in accordance with the ACAS Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (as well as the company’s own disciplinary policy). This is important because it shows you are trying to handle allegations in an appropriate and serious manner. 

Social media

Anything said or done via social media which relates to the business or employees, and that would be deemed misconduct if said in person, should be treated the same online as offline. This means you should still undertake a full investigation under disciplinary or grievance procedures.

Ultimately, it is a good idea to make sure that policies are up to date and that employees are reminded about what constitutes unacceptable behaviour before the parties begin. 

Hopefully, of course, you'll never need to worry about these issues marring your end-of-year celebrations but it's always best to be prepared. This will give you the security of knowing everyone understands what’s allowed – and you'll be able to get on with enjoying yourself properly!

Gareth Matthews, employment law solicitor at MLP Law, one of the leading commercial law firms in the North-West of England.