It’s that time of year again folks. The Christmas season is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the staff Christmas party.

The purpose of this blog is to provide employers with some key areas in which they should consider planning and preparing for during the build up to one of the most important events of the year in relation to staff engagement and motivation. Morale can often get a lift at such events, as can team unity. For management, the staff Christmas party is a means of rewarding and recognising the staff for their efforts and hard work throughout the year as well as breaking down any interpersonal barriers that can arise in the employee – employer/manager relationship.

Businesses can become exceptionally busy at this time of year, making it easy for Christmas party preparation to get pushed to the back burner when faced with hectic day-to-day operation. Without consulting with your staff as to what they would like to do, where they would like to go, which date suits everyone involved etc. the Christmas party may not be as well-received as you had hoped it would be.  Without addressing your staff as to your expectations of them and their behaviour on the night, you may give the impression that the event is of a more casual nature than intended or that employee’s won’t be reprimanded or disciplined for acting in ways that are ordinarily considered unacceptable.

Here are some of the top points that you should consider in preparation for the event:

  • Planning– With regard to planning the event, we would advise getting input from the staff on what they would like to do, where they would like to go etc. – a quick employee survey can allow staff to give their input and ensure that you are using your investment in the correct way.
  • Safety – It is important to remember that employers can be held liable for incidents that happen at Christmas parties, even if the party is offsite and out of hours. Once the arrangements for the Company Christmas Party have been organised, take the opportunity (perhaps in your email communication about the event) to remind staff that this is a company event and for everyone’s enjoyment to be mindful that all company policies and procedures apply especially in relation to conduct on the night.
  • Dignity/Harassment – Review the “Dignity at Work” policy and ensure that it clearly states the employer will not tolerate bullying, harassment or sexual harassment. The policy should state that it includes work-related social events.
  • Logistics – Ensure that the venue is suitable for disabled employees, has an option for all special dietary requirements and suitable transportation is arranged if necessary.
  • Alcohol – Staff should be reminded that alcohol must be consumed responsibly at Company Parties.
  • Social Media– You may also consider reminding staff that if they are engaging in social media tools that they should respect their colleagues and managements privacy. It may be useful to reissue the Company Social Media Policy and to inform all in attendance that they are not permitted to post images of others without their consent. It may also be advisable to request that no videos are posted.
  • Employee inclusion– Keep in mind that Christmas is a Christian celebration and is not observed by every religion. Although some employees may not celebrate Christmas, these employees should not be discriminated against and should be given the choice to attend the Company Party. Ensure that all your workforce are included and consider referring to the party as an “End of Year” party if you think the word Christmas in non-inclusive. If an employee does not want to attend the Company Christmas Party, due to personal or religious beliefs, this choice should be respected by the employer.
  • Brief the Management team – Advise Management not to discuss issues relating to salaries, performance, career prospects or serious HR issues at the event, especially if alcohol has been taken.

A good option to ensure that you communicate all relevant points to employees is to send an email in advance setting out clear written guidance. It is important to keep the tone light as this is a positive announcement and to advise that you are including important safety notices to ensure all employees enjoy the event.  This should indicate:

  • that employees should consume alcohol responsibly and remember to show due consideration to their fellow employees and members of the public;
  • that under no circumstances are they to drink and drive for their own and others safety;
  • that drunken and /or disorderly behaviour, illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse, harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature will not be tolerated and any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal;
  • that they are at all times expected to observe the policies put in place by their employer highlighting, in particular, the Dignity at Work, Bullying and Harassment, Disciplinary and Grievance, Absence and Social Media policies in place;
  • that these guidelines cover not just the Christmas party but the after party and the after-after party too!

Case Law

In case (UD 886/2012) an employee was dismissed for assaulting a colleague and then a security guard at their Christmas party. The claimant stated he had been provoked by his colleague stubbing out his cigarette on him. The colleague did not apologise, the claimant became angry and charged at his co-worker. Others in the smoking area were pushed aside, and one person fell to the ground. Afterwards, the claimant moved to the bar, where he was approached by hotel security and asked to leave. He states that he ‘panicked’ and pushed the guard saying he was not aware that the man was a security guard.

On investigation, the colleague claimed that he didn’t know he had burned the claimant and – if he had known – he would have apologised. CCTV was reviewed, and the claimant was called to a disciplinary meeting to discuss the incidents.  He accepted that an altercation had occurred but disputed the witness statements that had been put forward. All present at the meeting agreed the 2 incidents were serious and management stated that no sanction other than dismissal could be considered. The colleague was not disciplined by the Company and denied provoking the claimant. The disciplinary invitation letter did not give the claimant notice of the possible disciplinary action that could be taken against him.

CCTV footage of the night was viewed by the EAT and deemed not to be conclusive. Whilst the EAT accepted that a physical altercation had taken place and the employee’s own behaviour had contributed to his dismissal, they noted that the investigation and disciplinary process followed by the Company had not been perfect and they had not disciplined the other party involved. An award of €25,000 was made to the claimant for unfair dismissal.

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